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Quality over quantity for Hoosiers on 1st signing day

Indiana’s program officially grew by 14 on Wednesday morning

Penn State v Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The first day of the early signing period unfolded as expected for Indiana on Wednesday, giving Tom Allen an opportunity to officially cross off the top items on his 2021 recruiting wish list.

Indeed, it was a good day inside IU’s North End Zone complex. As we noted in our signing day primer on Tuesday, this isn’t — and probably wasn’t ever going to be — a highly-ranked class compared to Indiana’s Big Ten peers. The size of the class has a direct effect on those rankings, and because IU isn’t set up to graduate too many players from its roster, this always projected to be a smaller haul. But the average rating per recruit is higher than it has ever been for IU, as Allen and his staff addressed their wants and needs with an intriguing group of 14 players poised to add to the depth that the Hoosiers are finally starting to enjoy.

“I am really excited about this group,” Allen said on Wednesday afternoon. “It is not a large number of guys, only 14. We still have six different states represented and one from New Zealand, so we have a little international flair to it. We have a good balance on offense in regards to different positions represented. We signed two offensive linemen, a tight end, two running backs, a quarterback and three wide receivers. Defensively we went heavy in the secondary and a defensive lineman, so only four on defense. We are really excited about the quality of the players.”

We covered the nuts and bolts in the aforementioned primer, so give that a look if you haven’t already. Otherwise, here are a few other points of interest to come out of the first day recruits were able to sign:

Early Enrollees

Indiana usually gets roughly a handful of signees on campus in January each year, and this cycle is no different.

Five of the players who finalized their IU futures on Wednesday are set to arrive in Bloomington next month, including receivers Jordyn Williams and D.J. Matthews, offensive tackle Joshua Sales, offensive guard Vinny Fiacable and punter James Evans.

There should be playing time up for grabs for IU’s receivers next fall, so Allen’s glad to get two of his three newest pass catchers into the huddle in time for spring ball. It’s similarly good to get linemen on campus as soon as possible, and both Sales at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, and Fiacable at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds already have the size you want to see up front.

“These guys are big young men already,” Allen said. “They’re coming to us big, thick and strong. But at the same time, they gotta learn our system. They gotta learn how to play the game at this level. It is hard. I know even when (tackle Matthew Bedford) was thrust into that position, it wasn’t really by design. It was, ‘Hey, this is reality.’ Starter goes down and you gotta be ready to go. But there’s no question that the ability to come at the mid-year and be a part of the entire offseason — you get a whole extra spring ball, a whole extra semester of training with our strength staff ... so I expect them to be way further along than they would’ve been had they just shown up on June 1.”

Coming to America

Punter James Evans, a native of New Zealand, brings some international flair to the class. But here’s the thing:

He’s never played football, and he’s never stepped foot in the United States.

That’s OK, though, given that Evans is a product of the renowned Prokick Australia program that has served as an elite training pipeline for punters and kickers Down Under. Evans is set to become the second consecutive Indiana punter to join the program via Prokick, following in the tracks of Haydon Whitehead. The 19-year-old moved to Australia to work with Prokick in January, and in a few weeks, he’ll begin applying those lessons at IU.

“(He) will be coming to this country for the first time, which is always an interesting type of situation as a mid-year,” Allen said. “But that is not all that uncommon with specialists from Australia or New Zealand.”

Not done?

The early signing period runs through Friday, but Indiana isn’t likely to add anyone else this week. Allen will have another chance in a month and a half during the traditional signing period, which begins on Feb. 3.

And there will be a lot of moving parts between now and then.

With seniors eligible to return next season due to the NCAA’s COVID waiver, and the expected upcoming passage of a one-time transfer rule, coaches will have a bunch of roster decisions to make in the coming weeks. First, though, they have to figure out who is sticking around. Then, they can address potential additions.

“We’ll have those discussions once we get through the bowl game and we’ll know more,” Allen said. “... Those are conversations that we’re going to have. Based on how many of those guys decide to stay, that will affect who we would probably go out and fill the spot or two that we have left.”

Staying in touch

Beyond the on-the-field upside, there’s one thing about the 2021 signing class that impressed Allen the most.

That is, their ability to stay connected despite having never met and, in a few cases, never having traveled to Bloomington.

“They formed a group text,” Allen said. “That was on their own. They stayed here when they came to visit, a big core of them, and as guys would commit, they would connect them to the group, and they really did a great job and I think that helped bond them to where they, hey we are all in this together, we are coming here together to do this and to help build Indiana Football. So, I think that connected them.”

That connectivity feels important during a cycle where IU didn’t lose anybody late.

Ready-made receiving help

Although the majority of Wednesday’s signings came from the high school level, one had previous college experience.

That would be former Florida State receiver D.J. Matthews, who played the 2017 through 2019 seasons in Tallahassee. Matthews, a highly-regarded member of Florida State’s 2017 recruiting cycle, was at his best on special teams for the Seminoles, ranking No. 10 in FSU program history with 582 punt return yards on 56 returns.

With some questions about the construction of next year’s receivers room — Ty Fryfogle and Whop Philyor are probably moving on, right? — Indiana wanted an extra pair of hands on offense. Enter Matthews.

“D.J. is a gifted athlete, for sure,” Allen said. “He is another weapon to bring to our offense. He is a very skilled punt returner, one of the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. We have an older group of receivers and a younger group with a gap in between, so it gives us a chance to create more depth there. He has a chance to come in here and compete and make plays. That is what we challenged him to do. As we bring the young guys around, as we tell all the guys that we recruit, they will have a chance to compete and earn a spot here. Competition is what makes you really good. Having a lot of weapons on offense is what you have to have.”