Feb. 1, 2012
By Tyler Wooten and Logan Lee
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois football coach Dale Lennon unveiled his 2012 recruiting class on Wednesday -- a group that featured 20 freshmen and six transfers.
Here is a transcript of his signing day press conference.
Q: "How many transfers are in school now?"
A: "All. I would not comment on any if they were not currently in school."
Q: "You said you were recruiting a football team, but the running backs are both transfers -- does that indicate you want them to play a significant role in next year's team?"
A: "That's where the mid-year transfers -- they have enough eligibility left, the three or four years, so we consider them kind of in that freshman class. But all of the mid-year transfers, we're not going to redshirt any one of the mid-year transfers. They're game-ready right now."
Q: "You recruited one transfer offensive lineman -- is there a possibility you may recruit more in the future?"
A: "Right now we have an offensive line that I think will be pretty good. Now, if we can build that up, we're definitely going to look at every option to get better. I'm not going to say we're not capable right now, but if we feel that there's somebody that's out there that can come in and make us better, we're definitely going to get that individual."
Q: "Are there any other players in southern Illinois that you'll invite to walk-on?"
A: "That is a continuing process, also. To be a priority walk-on right now, and probably why it's at two, is you would have had to have applied, you would have to be enrolled as far as the housing is concerned for us to be able to release it now. There are some individuals that would like to come and try out for the team -- that's another category. The ones that are the priority walk-ons, they're guaranteed a spot with the team. They will not need to go through any try-out process."
Q: "Did Jewel (Hampton) leaving for the NFL Draft have an effect on bringing in the two FBS transfer running backs, Antonio Banks (Indiana) and Mika'il McCall (Iowa)?"
A: "The way it worked out, the timing was more out of coincidence than anything else. We already had Antonio in December, and he was looking at us even with Jewel being here. He had committed to us not knowing if Jewel was going to be here or not. With Mika'il, his timing pretty much happened here in January, so in that point in time Jewel's decision had been made. I don't know if we would have gotten Mika'il or not, I just know (Member of the Saluki track and field team) Jeneva (McCall), his sister, was a big reason. Coach John Smith played a big role in that, too, selling the program and making sure he felt good about where he was going to."
Q: "Was going after an FBS receiver an option during this off-season?"
A: "There, too, we're always open if there's an individual that we think can make a difference. There again, we're looking for somebody who is very high quality. A couple of the receivers that we had been talking to in December, they ended up going to Division I-A (FBS) type programs. From there we just continued recruiting, because we do have some good, young receivers coming up through the program. I don't think you ever want to get to the point where you do a knee-jerk response and just bring anyone in. We made sure we were very calculated with every transfer that did come in. In fact, with the Division I transfers, the one thing we did also was contact their coaching staffs at the school they were leaving just to ask, 'Is this a good move for us?' and with the three transfers their coaching staffs all recommended them highly."
Q: "How do you go about getting FBS transfers?"
A: "We live in a society now where you see that at the Division I level, if the playing time is not what they're looking for, they're going to look elsewhere. A lot of these individuals, they just want to play. They want to have a chance to contribute to a football team, that's one reason. I think you're seeing a lot of transitioning now too from Division I-A to other Division I-A programs, so it's not always that step down, so sometimes when guys are leaving early in their career, they're still planning on staying at that level. It helps if you have connections."
Q: "Are there any position where you felt like you filled some immediate needs?"
A: "Well, we needed offensive linemen. That was for the future, and I think that's why you see us signing or having six incoming high school offensive linemen, so that will help our depth for the future. The guys that are looking at contributing this next year -- Nate Haremza would be in that category. Another offensive lineman that we do have in house that didn't play for us last year that started late in school last fall was Victor Craven. We're curious to see where Victor Craven will be here this spring and how game-ready he'll be for next year."
Q: "Are there any positions where a freshman could come in and have a chance to play?"
A: "You never know until you see how they perform, but I tell every freshman when they come in: 'I want you to have the mentality that you're going to play this year. Show us that you're ready to go right now, and we'll tell you if you're ready or not.' For us to play a freshman, I want that individual to be able to contribute significantly, so if we're going to pull the redshirt off of them, I want them to be a guy that's seeing the field frequently. I don't want to pull the redshirt off of someone and have them play two to three plays a game, I just think you waste a year by doing that. That's kind of how we go about whether or not to redshirt."
Q: "Is the kicking situation similar?"
A: "The kicking situation is the same thing. If Austin Johnson comes in and he's the best kicker, he'll get the spot."
Q: "Do you feel like you've improved with every class that you've had here?"
A: "Yeah, the recruiting in itself, just knowing how to do it, where to go, the contacts, it's definitely getting easier and smoother. Just being able to contact the coaches in the high schools, having that familiarity with them, that helps us. I think we've grown in how we've recruited and I think we've grown in the caliber of the recruits that we've gotten."
Q: "Have you been trying to stay with the local schools?"
A: "I always try to go there. What we want to do there, too, is that we want to make sure that we're getting the most talented individuals that are interested in SIU. It's great when you have guys that fit into that category that are right in your backyard. At the same time, we're still trying to get the highest quality. When we go out recruiting, we're not going to say, 'This year we had a heavy influence of Chicago recruits,' when we didn't go into the year saying, 'We're going to really recruit Chicago hard.' It was just a year when Chicago had a lot of high quality, especially linemen, that were available that it kind of all came together for us like that, where a year ago people up in Chicago were wondering are you guys even recruiting Chicago? Every year is a little bit different in how that presents itself where the emphasis is."
Q: "Is it safe to say this is the best class you've had in your time here?"
A: "Well they have to prove it. I'm excited about them today but at the same time they have to come out and prove themselves this fall. Last year's recruiting class was pretty good and we were able to redshirt most of them. We think a lot of them will be able to contribute this next year."
Q: "Did I hear you say that James Rooks, a 300 pounder, is a basketball player?"
A: "He played up to this year. It's just him and his mom and they were excited this morning to sign that scholarship."
Q: "Can you talk about the possibility of redshirting Ryan West with a lot of people at quarterback as it is?
A: "He needs to show us what he's capable of doing. It's tough for an incoming freshman quarterback to step in and have the grasp of the offense that you need to compete. With Ryan, he's still playing basketball but he already has the playbook and has already learned the formations and how we're calling the plays, so he's doing everything in his power to be able to perform at a high level this summer."
Q: "You talked about Elroy Douglas and how you tried to recruit him a year ago but things fell through. Can you elaborate a little more on that?
A: "Originally, he was looking into some big-time programs, ended up being late where he had some issues with qualifying, and then he qualified late. That happens sometimes where individuals will qualify late after the signing day, so that's why his best option then was to go to a junior college. He went to Coffeyville and redshirted there and then we were able to pick up on him, and fortunately we had recruited him before and at least had some association with him recognizing who we were."
Q: "Will all of your incoming freshmen be here during your summer workouts?"
A: "All of our incoming, scholarship freshmen will be in summer school. That's one of the big advantages we have by bringing the freshmen in, they get six credits on the summer and kind of learn how college works. They get to know their roommates and work out with the team. Now when you go four summers doing that it's like a year of credits after your fourth year, so that's why a lot of our guys are graduating after four years and why most of ours will graduate after five."
Q: "Which of these recruits are you most excited about?"
A: "It's like being a parent you can't really ask that question. "Which son do you really like the most?" I'm not going to answer that one."
Q: "Where do you begin with your recruiting? Do you get tips and have sources?"
A: " You work. You do a lot of camps which is where our coaches did a great job this summer getting to as many camps as possible. The one camp that really helped us was the Northwestern football camp. They had a showcase with 1200 kids and we had four coaches there. As a head coach they give me all the data and all the information, that's a great place to go and evaluate. Summer camps are huge and we do a football camp in Chicago where we get big numbers and we signed a few individuals, just because they were at our football camp up there. It's a process, we go through some recruiting services to get names and make contact and then as you go through it you try to make connections."
Q: "Do you have a lot of high school coaches that will say "Hey, come recruit this kid!"?"
A: "Yeah and with recruiting it gets personal, so you'll have coaches who get upset with you if you don't take their kids, and they get happy with you if you do. It's all about relationships. It's a people-type business where relationships are extremely important."
Q: "Were you hesitant to look at Victor Burnett given the way he left the Washington program?"
A: "We called the coaches and they couldn't say enough good things about him. I think the media will sometimes do that where they slant things a little more negative than what they actually were, but we talked to the coaches. He was a student-body president, you look at what he accomplished in high school and he had a lot of positive accomplishments. With the situation at Washington, it never really came out as to what was there, there was never anything that happened, but it just wasn't a good parting. If the coaches would have said that he wasn't worth the chance, then we would have backed off, but they said he was good and to give him a chance."
Q: "What are you happiest with most about the class?"
A: "It's a football team. We have some good size, we have some good toughness, we have some good aggressiveness on defense, we have good athleticism in the backfield, at the receiver position, and at the secondary and those are things you want with your football team, and I think we did a good job of addressing those needs."
Q: "Are you going to leave Tanner Crum on the offensive line?"
A: " We played him at nose tackle at the beginning and then he went into our goal line package on defense. He knows he's the heir apparent to Bryan Boemer, who by the way just received the Rimmington Award for the best center in the FCS. Boemer might even comment that Tanner is even stronger than he is, but Tanner is a man. He needs to learn the game, he's still pretty raw. Playing him this year was a huge benefit and he's just going to be that much better."
Q: "Besides Jewel (Hampton) how many players did you lose from last year's class?"
A: "Well I wasn't prepared to answer that, but it was right around 18, that's about the standard size of a senior class. I think we probably lost nine starters from last year, about half of the total number. I think that will be a pretty consistent number from here on out for a senior class."
Q: "Do you keep scholarships available after signing day or do you try to get rid of all of them?"
A: "It's calculated. I won't go into the complete theory but you like to have something left, you don't always, but you just have to plan for opportunity."
Q: "Of the players that you redshirted from this past season is there anyone that you look to make an immediate impact this season?"
A: "Now that question would take a long time to answer. I'm looking for a lot of them to make an impact, it was a good recruiting class last year and there's some good talent there. This offseason is going to be very big for us. A lot of the freshmen we redshirted last year are now lifting side by side with the upperclassmen, this is going to be the semester where they see their biggest gains and we really want to see how they perform this spring. That's the exciting thing about spring ball is seeing some of these young guys get after it and make their mark within the program. I'm going to take the political exit on that one."