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EIU Coaches Hit Recruiting Trail
Illinois and Florida have been the standard recruiting hotbeds for Eastern’s football program. Wisconsin, Ohio and the west coast have also become more prominent in the past years.
As Eastern’s coaches continue to hit the recruiting trail this winter, Oklahoma, Iowa and Indiana will also be added to the mix.
Not counting recruiting dead periods, Eastern’s coaches have 55 days to solidify the Panthers’ 2009 recruiting class.
“I think we have to get this part of the calendar done, this recruiting effort,” Eastern head coach Bob Spoo said. “Bring in some of the best players we can find out there and get back on a competitive level again.”
Spoo said one thing he thought he saw this season was a number of Ohio Valley Conference teams that had improved. He said these teams improved personnel-wise, which Eastern did not do.
“We’ve got to find the guys now that can compete again and get us back to where we’re competing for a conference championship every year,” Spoo said. “The league has gotten stronger, and we have to get stronger too. We’ve got to get our recruiting solidified, get the players signed on that first Wednesday in February and bring them in and coach the heck out of them.”
With his intention to take another look at switching to the spread offense, Spoo said one position Eastern needs to look at improving is wide receiver.
Spoo said the Panthers had good players at that position but perhaps not the type of players needed for the proposed change to the offense.
“It seems like the teams we played and lost to had guys that were faster and better catches,” Spoo said. “I think we were lacking in that position to be honest. We’ve got to come up with guys that can spread the field and move the secondary out of there.”
Spoo said one receiving characteristic he wanted to focus on was yards after catch. He said receivers with the ability to get extra yardage beyond the point of the initial catch are what the Panthers need.
“Shawn Williams is a guy that comes to mind that can give us that element,” Spoo said of the Panthers’ freshman wide receiver and punt returner. “I expect him to be a much more productive player for us next year.”
Spoo said red-shirt freshman wide reciever Lorence Ricks could also be a key contributor for the Panthers next season.
Spoo said he expects freshman wide receiver Von Wise, who missed the entire 2008 season with a leg injury, to also be a major contributor next season.
“He’s tall, and he runs well,” Spoo said about Wise. “I don’t know if (his injury) affected his speed at this point. Just from the brief time that he had in preseason camp, he would have been a guy that would have been playing a great deal for us. I’m looking forward to him resurrecting his purpose in coming here and providing some needed energy at that position.”
One area of Eastern’s offense Spoo said he wasn’t too worried about was the Panthers’ running backs.
Eastern returns red-shirt sophomore Chevon Walker and freshman Desmin Ward, who led the Panthers with touchdowns this season (11). Walker was second on the team in rushing yards with 399 (63 more yards than Ward).
“We should have a fine group of running backs,” Spoo said. “We’re also bringing in a guy that we recruited in the fall who was declared ineligible and had to wait a whole semester to come out.”
Kenny Williams, who signed a National Letter of Intent out of Elgin High School in February, did not qualify to play this season but will join the team in time for spring practice.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers have to replace four graduating seniors from the defensive line including three starters in defensive ends Pierre Walters and Donovan Johnson and defensive tackle Jeff Sobol.
Spoo said size would not be the main focus when recruiting defensive linemen. Johnson would be an example of this as he stood just 6-foot-1 and weighed 225 pounds but led the Panthers in sacks and was second on the team in tackles for loss and quarterback hurries.
“Not so much size, although you need to have a certain amount of size, but you need to be quick,” Spoo said. “You need to be able to really run and change direction. We’re losing some very key players, but hopefully we can find guys - if they’re not already in our program - that can come through for us.”
One player already on the Panthers’ roster fits the mold Spoo wants at defensive end.
Freshman defensive end Perry Burge moved up from playing on the Panthers’ practice squad to being part of Eastern’s regular rotation on the defensive line.
The Bolingbrook native played in 10 of the Panthers’ 12 games and had 14 tackles including four for loss.
Burge also had one sack for an eight-yard loss and one pass broken up.
Spoo said he is energized at this time of the year, especially following a disappointing 5-7 season.
“I think we’re a little bit more focused on the positions that we need,” Spoo said. ‘There is a real focus. Until recruiting has officially ended, the signing day that first Wednesday in February, then we can start talking about football and what we need to do.”
Coaches hit recruiting trail
By Scott Richey, The Daily Eastern News