BLOOMINGTON — As much as he hates to say it, Illinois Wesleyan football coach Norm Eash expects a “transition” season in 2014 after losing 32 seniors from an NCAA Division III playoff squad.
That isn't so bad for the incoming freshmen, though.
Eash announced a 40-player recruiting class Tuesday and expects several of those newcomers to contend for starting positions when practice begins in August.
“Every year we access our needs and try to fill them,” said Eash, who will start his 28th season as the Titans' coach. “I think we have more needs this year than ever before because of the senior class leaving.
“We also had major staff changes. We lost two GAs (graduate assistants) and Billy (Dicken, offensive coordinator) left to go to ISU, plus our nonconference schedule is one of the toughest we've had. Those loomed large in the recruiting process.”
The need to bring in quality players who could contribute immediately was a focus that Eash believes was accomplished.
Two of the four quarterbacks recruited have a chance to replace graduated Rob Gallik. Junior Tyler Hook emerged as the No. 1 quarterback out of spring practice, but Eash said there will be a competition in the fall.
Six-foot-3, 180-pound Brian Johnson threw for 3,291 yards and 31 touchdowns last fall for Willowbrook High School. That included a state-record 675 yards with seven TDs in a 62-49 victory over Lyons Township.
Jack Warner of Hersey is smaller than Johnson at 5-10 and 165 pounds. But Warner also was his conference's player of the year while throwing for 1,922 yards and 19 TDs and rushing for 237 yards and seven TDs.
“We did it with Kraig Ladd and Brien Rooney. We played two who are very similar (size-wise) to those kids,” said Eash. “I'm pretty jacked up about it. One is a little bigger than the other, but both are very similar. They'll be tremendous additions to our program.”
Eash also said “we did a great job with offensive and defensive lines,” bringing in eight on both sides.
As a group, Eash said the offensive line has “size and strength.” It features two 300-plus pound blockers in Rolling Meadows' William Golaris (315) and Johnsburg's Zachary Kinney (300). Luke Cipich of Chicago Mount Carmel and Hersey's Christopher Collins figure to challenge for playing time.
Michael Bellino of Peru St. Bede, a 6-4, 230-pound tight end and son of Bruins' long-time John Bellino, has a chance to play soon. Andrew Apel of Buffalo Grove, who had 45 catches for 515 yards, is the top wide receiver recruit and also was an all-conference basketball player.
The top defensive line prospects include Justin Krzeczkowski of Lockport, Keegan McShane of Lincoln-Way West, Michael Mulcrone of Niles Notre Dame and Nicholas Monferdini of Morton. Monferdini's father, Pete, played for Eash at Dwight High School and IWU.
Eash said he expects “immediate help” from two linebackers — Josh Akin of Blue Island Eisenhower and Jordan Hassan of Glenbard West. The other new linebacker is the lone Intercity recruit, Stephon Rudicil of Bloomington, who spent the last two years as a wrestler at Lincoln College.
Matt Campbell of Rolling Meadows, along with Jeremy Giderof of Montini and speedy Robert Kallien of Oswego East, could challenge for playing time in the secondary.
“We needed a very talented freshman class and there could be a youth movement,” said Eash. “We always try to put talent on the field, but if that talent is going to be freshmen then we'll go with freshmen.”
The Titans open the season Sept. 6 against Franklin (Ind.) at Tucci Stadium.