NORMAL — After adding 21 players during the new December signing period, Illinois State football coach Brock Spack topped off his recruiting tank with 10 more newcomers on Wednesday’s traditional Signing Day.
“The base of the class was already signed so we looked for some speed guys and long defensive linemen,” Spack said. “We got what we needed.”
The seven who signed national letters of intent Wednesday included three defensive backs, two defensive linemen, a linebacker and a wide receiver.
Normal Community High School defensive lineman Dalton Tevis was among three who inked preferred walk-on agreements.
Most likely to help in the coming season is inside linebacker Paul Engram. The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder began his college career at Western Michigan before transferring to College of DuPage. He will have two years of eligibility with the Redbirds.
“We recruited him out of high school. He went to junior college to mature, according to him, and he has,” said Spack. “He’s a good kid. Junior college has been good for him.”
Spack believes safety Mike Gardner of Cedar Hill, Texas, would have been more highly recruited had he not missed his senior season because of a knee injury.
“He was a great player as a junior,” Spack said. “His rehab has gone very well.”
Charles Woods of Dallas projects more as a cornerback, according to Spack.
“He has pretty good speed,” said Spack. “He’s a young guy we can develop.”
Inroads made by new receivers coach Brian Anderson to the St. Louis Metro East area resulted in the additions of Belleville Althoff defensive back Iverson Brown and East St. Louis wide receiver Eric Rogers.
Rogers caught 51 passes for 844 yards as a senior, and both chose ISU over other Missouri Valley Football Conference programs.
“BA did a really good job down there,” Spack said. “Brown is a long corner. Rogers really came on as a senior.”
Josh Dinga of Sun Prairie, Wis., is a 6-6, 220-pound defensive end.
“We needed another long, young end,” said the Redbird coach. “He hung in there with us. Ball State offered him the week after he committed to us and he said no. We’re very appreciative of that.”
A tip from a friend of offensive coordinator Kurt Beathard led to the signing of defensive lineman Jude Okolo, a 6-4, 245-pounder from North Plainfield, N.J.
“He’s really raw. We’re going to greyshirt him,” Spack said. “He’s going to be a big dude and he’s going to be a good player. He’s just not quite there yet.”
Tevis, Dunlap’s Luke Bennyhoff and Trevor Bond of McCordsville, Ind., are part of an added emphasis on “doing a better job recruiting high quality guys for walk-ons. Those guys are really important,” Spack said.
The 6-4, 240-pound Tevis led NCHS with 11 tackles for loss as a senior and had five sacks.
“Dalton has come to our camps since he was a little guy,” said Spack. “He's worked really hard. It's amazing how much he's improved in his time at Normal Community. If he keeps going, he could be a factor here.”
Bennyhoff was the Peoria Journal Star’s large school Player of the Year after leading Dunlap to a Class 5A state runner-up finish with 87 tackles and three interceptions on defense and 2,133 rushing yards.
“He was good at everything he did,” Spack said. “We’re going to teach him to tackle and be a safety. He could play a lot of positions: running back, slot receiver, wide receiver, kick returner.”
Bond, who booted a 48-yard field goal in high school, will compete for ISU's vacant place-kicking job.
Kirk returns to team: Spack also confirmed safety Luther Kirk has rejoined the team after sitting out last season.
Kirk had 15 tackles as a sophomore in 2016 and has two years of eligibility remaining.
“We’re thrilled to have him back in the fold,” Spack said. “He will really help us back there. It will free up a couple guys to move out and be corners. It gives us a few more options in nickel packages.”