NORMAL — Denver Johnson spent some time in Texas last week.
And the Illinois State football coach wasn't shopping for cowboy boots.
Johnson's home visits and the previous recruiting work of assistant coach Mike Menefee paid off Wednesday in the signing of five Texas high school players to national letters of intent in a 16-player recruiting class.
"Having been a high school coach in Texas, Mike is well connected and had an ability to cultivate the area fairly quickly," Johnson said. "We felt like we had a good sell, and we got a great response. Some kids want to get away from home to a different atmosphere and different climate.
"Mike did an outstanding job finding kids, developing relationships with kids and selling our institution."
While more than doubling the number of Texans on the ISU roster, Johnson also landed nine Illinois prep standouts (including Bloomington's Brent Holtz and Normal Community's Michael Cross), a kicker from Wisconsin and an all-around athlete from Utah.
"I'm ecstatic. Giddy," said Johnson. "More professionally, I'm very proud and pleased with this bunch. I think it will prove out to be an awesome class."
The new Redbirds from Texas are running back Geno Blow and offensive lineman Brad Paul of Clear Lake High School in Seabrook, cornerback Kelvyn Hemphill, defensive lineman Brandon Wilson and wide receiver Jermaine Malcolm of San Antonio. Hemphill played at O'Connor High School, Malcolm at Holmes and Wilson at John Jay.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Blow rushed for 1,154 yards as a senior and more than 3,000 in his prep career.
"We think we got a real steal," Johnson said. "Being a fullback in a wishbone offense camouflaged him. If he was standing up at the tailback position, he's one everybody would know about. He'll be a tailback for us."
Johnson played against Daryl Hemphill, the father of Kelvyn, in college. Hemphill's mother, Glenda, was a standout basketball player.
The ISU coaching staff sees the 6-2, 210-pound Wilson as cut from the same cloth as former Redbird All-America defensive end Brent Hawkins. Wilson had 13 sacks and 30 tackles for loss and was named the Class 5A Defensive Lineman of the Year in Texas.
"I hate to draw comparisons, but you couldn't help but think of Hawkins when you watched his film," Johnson said. "He was heavily recruited. He's an excellent sign."
Johnson calls Malcolm and Peoria Woodruff receiver Micha Gordon both "immensely talented. They are big, strong and have great hands."
The 6-4, 185-pound Malcolm caught 30 passes for 613 yards and six touchdowns as a senior. Gordon played for former ISU player and assistant coach Tim Thornton at Woodruff. He had 46 receptions for 860 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final high school season.
ISU tapped Chicago Catholic League power Gordon Tech for two players in defensive lineman David Rivas and linebacker Tommie Westbrook.
The Catholic League White Defensive Player of the Year, the 6-foot, 220-pound Westbrook had 112 tackles and four interceptions as a senior.
"Tommie is a thick, hard-hitting linebacker," Johnson said. "He's a true middle linebacker, a run stopper."
The ISU coach said Rivas and Orland Park Sandburg's Mike Strutz are both defensive ends who have the size (both are 6-3, 230) to possibly grow into a tackle.
The Redbirds landed another offensive lineman in 6-5, 265-pound Chris Riley of Warren Township. "He's a cut-above athlete," Johnson said.
Mike Piton is a 6-2, 255-pound defensive tackle from Palos Hills Stagg. "He has a fantastic motor," said Johnson. "He's relentless getting to the ball."
Tight end Dane Zumbahlen played for Class 6A state champion Morris. The 6-5, 235-pounder is a "big guy who can run with good, soft hands," according to Johnson.
Tyler Funk of Racine, Wis., will be the favorite to take over the punting chores from graduated standout Ryan Hoffman. Funk also will compete at place-kicker.
Tony Trujillo of Salt Lake City will be tried first at safety but could also play H-back. The 6-2, 220-pounder played for Tom Jones, the son of a good friend of Johnson's, at Cottonwood High School.
"He might be the sleeper of the class," the Redbird coach said. "He reminds me a little of (former Gateway all-star) Ryan Szokola but a little bigger."
Jason Tate, a defensive back from Lake Mary, Fla., was part of last year's recruiting class but did not attend school. He has joined the team this semester along with previously announced junior college transfers Billy Speiser and Jeremy Joynt.
Speiser is an offensive lineman, while Joynt is a tight end. Both are from Iowa Central Community College.
Johnson also said Wednesday that Edwardsville tailback Jordan Brewer has rejoined the team. Brewer sat out the 2004 season as a redshirt before leaving school for a year and has three years of eligibility remaining.
"We thought he had great potential when he was here before," said the ISU coach.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!