Overreaction theater was in full effect back in February when the Eastern Illinois football team announced its full 2018 recruiting class. On the list of 16 athletes, which included signees from the early December signing period, there was only one Illinois player, inciting outrage from high school coaches in Chicago and some of the football enthusiasts up north and around the area.
The one Illinois player EIU signed was Blue Island Eisenhower offensive lineman Rashawn Schandon.
"I don't get it," one blogger wrote. "Hoping that EIU has continued success this season and I'm hoping this class, at least from an in-state perspective, is a wake-up call for Eastern Illinois."
This was obviously written by someone who has no understanding about recruiting at EIU. Recruiting has nothing to do with how many in-state players a program can land; it's about landing players who can make the program successful, plain and simple. Not to mention the fact that if EIU would've landed one or two more players from the state, especially ones from the Chicago area, mainly a quarterback, it would've been less perplexing to those bloggers.
Let's start with the one that got away from EIU: Naperville North dual-threat quarterback Drake Davis. EIU went after Davis and offered him. However, while Davis had some interest in EIU, he thought he was a Big Ten quarterback and went on visits with Big Ten schools. In the end, Davis chose to walk-on at Illinois. Let me repeat that: He turned down an offer from EIU to walk-on at a bigger school, and I totally respect his decision. But that's completely ignored by those criticizing EIU for not recruiting Illinois talent.
And Davis isn't the only Illinois recruit to do that. Early last summer, EIU offered Jordyn Slaughter, an offensive tackle from Belleville Atlhoff Catholic. EIU was one of a few FCS programs to offer Slaughter at the time and it was early in the process. Later, Illinois came around and decided to offer Slaughter a scholarship, and he jumped at it because Illinois was the school he was waiting for. Should EIU be penalized because they had Slaughter on their radar before Illinois? No, but they were by those evaluating EIU's class.
EIU was also in on Shelbyville's Turner Pullen and, while it wasn't a scholarship offer, it was a preferred walk-on offer. Pullen later chose McKendree, an NCAA Division II school and once again, I totally respect his decision. If EIU brings in Pullen, a local player, all it really would've taken for some was him to think more of EIU's class.
What EIU did was use its connections. When players in Illinois decided to not take EIU seriously or turned their attention to other schools, the coaching staff decided to use their connections to find players that they thought had D-I talent and could help the program win games. What that meant was going out of state.
Both EIU's offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator — Scott Parr and Cary Fowler, respectively — coached and recruited in Texas. Two players came from Navarro Junior College, where Parr coached, including Harry Woodbery, who was one of the best standouts from EIU's spring game and has a chance to be the Panthers' starting quarterback. Tulane transfer quarterback Johnathan Bradley was recruited by Parr when he was in high school in Houston, Texas. Freshman quarterback Qua Gray is from Lubbock, Texas.
We've all heard how great high school football is in Texas, but it was used as a negative by those evaluating the class.
"I understand losing out on some kids here and there, but signing a class with nearly half of them from Texas?" the same blogger wrote. "And signing as many kids from Hawaii than from within your backyard?"
Yes, EIU signed one player from Hawaii, offensive lineman Eliki Tanuvasa, but the Panthers have had plenty of success recruiting Hawaii. I wonder if that blogger even knows who Kamu Grugier-Hill is, a native of Hawaii who is now in the NFL. Grugier-Hill, an EIU grad who was a standout linebacker, is one of the best special teams players in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles.
Pono Choy played a key role for EIU a couple of years ago and Louis Vailopa was a three-year starter on the offensive line for the Panthers. So these players EIU gets from Hawaii, they've been pretty successful. Maybe look at that before bashing it.
This spring and summer, EIU continues to prove it recruits Illinois and the Chicago area, regardless of what's thrown out there by certain bloggers. EIU has offered numerous players up in the Chicago area and other players in Illinois. The Panthers already have a verbal commitment from Sacred Heart-Griffin linebacker Grant Edwards. EIU has shown plenty of love to Illinois recruits this year, which isn't different from any other year. All it takes is following Twitter to see who EIU has offered.
Yes, not all of them are from Illinois, but please name the Illinois D-I college football program that is made up entirely of Illinois players only. There isn't one. There were 38 players from Illinois on EIU's roster last season, only eight less than Illinois. Western Illinois had 35 Illinois players on its roster, three fewer than EIU.
So the outrage is unnecessary. EIU is recruiting Illinois just as hard as the other programs in Illinois. So far, the mix of in-state and out-of-state players has worked well in Kim Dameron's era since the Panthers have finished with winning seasons in each of the last three years.
Would they like to have more Illinois kids on the roster? Sure. I am sure every college in the state would. But the most important thing is finding players to fit a system and help the program win, and over the years, EIU has proven they can get just as good of players out-of-state as in-state if those in-state players, like Drake Davis, choose another school. So maybe the real key is to evaluate a class in three to four years based on the success on the field, not where the players are from.