So as we near the end of the Evaluation Period for football recruits (the Evaluation Period is when the 10 assistant coaches - but not the head coach - can go out on the road and into the high schools), where should we be in terms of numbers for this football recruiting class?
Let's start with the number of available scholarships. With fifth-year transfer Jalen Greene now headed to Utah State instead of Illinois, there is one more "available" ride in 2019. Why 2019? Because we've already maxed out the 2018 class (you only get 25 players per class, and we're at 25) so if we want to add someone, they are a "blueshirt" who is counted towards the 25 in the 2019 class. That's how we added freshman kicker Caleb Griffin and 5th-year quarterback AJ Bush to an already full class. Greene was also going to be on that list, but he's headed elsewhere.
That means our "cap" is at 23 for the 2019 class instead of 25. Will we reach that number? Probably not. Let's go through the other numbers.
As of right now there are seven seniors: Allegretti, Dudek, Mays, McLaughlin, Meadors (5th-year transfer from App State), Phillips, and Roberts. AJ Bush makes eight seniors. So that's the start - 8 available scholarships for 2019 players after these seniors graduate.
Then there's two redshirt junior walkons on one-year rides - Jimmy Marchase and Bobby Walker. Both could be renewed for one more year or both could be given to 2019 freshmen. For now, we'll count them as open scholarships. That's 10.
And by my numbers, if the rest of the 2018 class shows up in two weeks (there's always a chance of an academic casualty), plus Bush and Griffin arrive, that leaves three available scholarships not being used in 2018. We'd be at 82, not 85. So that's three more available (rolled-over, really), bringing us to 13.
Will the class be larger than 13? Yes. There's always attrition. There are always 4th-year juniors who leave the program (their four-year ride expires and is not renewed for a fifth year). So the number will end up somewhere in the middle there. Can't be more than 23, certainly won't be less than 13. For now, let's put the number at 19. That would assume that six current players leave between now and a year from now.
So, the target is 19 players and we're currently at 5. 14 to bring in, what are some target dates?
Well, I've written at length at how this coaching staff recruits slowly. How the pitch at the end of a visit appears to be "please come back", not "please commit immediately". They really want to get to know a kid face-to-face to see if he's a fit, not just a great athlete who is good at football. The things that Philip Fleck does at Minnesota during a visit - assume that Lovie does nearly the exact opposite. Lovie will wait and wait and wait some more.
But we can't wait and wait until there are 12 rides available and it's January 26th. So what are some good target dates?
I wrote before about how I was hoping that April and May would be a "heat check". Hold off on some of the borderline take/don't take kids and see what kind of responses you get from the fringe 3/4 star players. Get out on the road and take everyone's temperature. You started with a bang, grabbing two top-100 players. No need to take verbals from low three-stars - get out there and see who is interested.
That heat check has gone.. somewhat poorly. Top target Jason Bargy picked Phil Fleck and Minnesota. Players who seemed like Illinois leans (Jahleel Billingsley) now seem to be leaning elsewhere. We've gone with the "shoot your shot" method and it hasn't gone the best.
But honestly, that's fine for now. I mean, it's not fine that there's a four-star defensive end in Momence and we cannot land him, but fine in the sense that it's still only May. Most everyone agreed that the 2017 class was a great one for Lovie, and on May 25, 2016 we had heard of what.. maybe eight of the 25 eventual players in the class? As in, we hadn't even heard their names yet. Bobby Roundtree, Del'Shawn Phillips, Tony Adams, Louis Dorsey - even Larry Boyd was barely on our radar. We're going to learn so many more names by the end of the summer. And then even more during the season and into December.
Where should we be verbal-wise by then? I think I'll set the number at nine. When training camp gets under way in August, be at nine verbal commits. Half the eventual class verballed, 10 still to give in the fall and winter. We'll probably land a few camp kids (players who camp with us in June and we offer on the spot). We landed Marc Mondesir and Tony Adams like that in the first class and then Jordyn Slaughter last year.
So let's set the bar at two camp kids and two from the target list. No dipping into the project pile yet - get two targets. Mid three-stars and up. Get there by August first and then it's maybe three verbals August through November (when it really slows down), four verbals in December (early signees), and three additional players in January.
That sounds like a good pace. Again, I don't want us to get too far ahead of ourselves. I'm not a fan of a class that's wrapped up by August. Take your time, continue to evaluate, look for those senior breakout players (like Palcho), count on an improved season on the field leading to a few more players open to your offer in December. A little from this pile and a little from this pile and a little from this pile. This is going to be a smaller class, so stay patient. Land the right 19 players.
Is it risky to bank on 2018 on-the-field success? Yes. Vegas set our over-under on wins at 3.5. But given where we're at after the first five players in this class, I think it's the right move. You've been out on the road for six weeks and have a good idea of your top targets. Now evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. Hold your camps, watch some kids in person, get more kids in for unofficials. I always look at April/May out-on-the-road as being the time that coaches take everyone's temperature. Now that we know who's hot and who's cold, respond accordingly.
- Add two camp kids in June.
- Add two kids from the target list before camp begins in August.
- Three more August through November with some fall official vists.
- Load up the two December visit weekends and land four of those targets (those December weekends are HUGE now with the new early Signing Day).
- Three scholarships left over for January (or even transfers in the spring).
The class started off with a bang. It's allowed us to heat check a little bit. I'm hoping we remain patient and don't start offering the lower three-stars. Bank on the momentum from Beason/Williams and possible momentum from an improved season to shoot for a higher level recruit.
And then repeat it all the next year, winning even more games. And the repeat it all the next year, winning even more games.