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Saluki football welcomes 27-player recruiting class on National Signing Day

Saluki+football+coach+Nick+Hill+yells+at+a+referee+during+SIU%27s+30-22+win+against+Southeast+Missouri+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+10%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Jacob+Wiegand+%7C+%40JacobWiegand_DE%29
Saluki football coach Nick Hill yells at a referee during SIU's 30-22 win against Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Saluki football coach Nick Hill yells at a referee during SIU's 30-22 win against Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Saluki football coach Nick Hill yells at a referee during SIU's 30-22 win against Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

By Sean Carley

The biggest day of the year in collegiate recruiting culminated Wednesday with SIU football coach Nick Hill signing 27 players.

The class of 2017 had a heavy emphasis on linemen on either side of the ball with five offensive linemen and eight defensive linemen, as well as one quarterback, one running back, two wide receivers, two tight ends, three linebackers, one defensive back, one safety, an athlete and a punter.

“We knew the type of players we could get in here,” Hill said. “Every head coach in America is going to sit up and have a press conference today and talk about how excited they are with their program. We truly feel this signing class paired with last year’s and what we’re doing with recruiting can really be a championship class.”

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Hill said the class was basically assembled by December and its members were so anxious that 22 of the 27 players sent in their letters of intent within the first hour they could.

“They’ve all gotten to know each other too,” he said. “There’s not a kid on there that I don’t know or that I’m like ‘Man, we really don’t know about his character.’ I feel like we’ve really gotten to know these guys as people and as players.”

SIU’s newest football players hail from eight different states, but primarily from two pipeline areas: central Florida and, as Hill repeatedly put it, “our own backyard.” Eight players will come to Carbondale from the Sunshine State and seven from within a two-hour drive of Carbondale.

MORE: SIU football hopes to see brighter days thanks to Sunshine State

Hill also signed three junior college players and a prep school player in addition to the 23 high schoolers.

Seven true freshmen played for SIU last season and Hill said there is the potential for that to happen again this year.

“We’ll need a few defensive linemen to play,” he said. “You never know until you get them here, but there’s definitely some skill players that can come here and play. If five or six of them play, we feel they have that kind of talent.”

The Recruits (sorted alphabetically, all stats and facts provided by Saluki Athletics):

Keenan Agnew – Defensive Lineman – Chesterfield, Mo./De Smet Jesuit HS

Height/Weight: 6’1”/270

Bio: Two-star recruit by Scout.com … Two-time All-Metro Catholic Conference selection by the St. Louis Post Dispatch … Brother of former Salukis Ray Agnew III and Malcolm Agnew

Hill’s take: “No one forgets that name around Saluki-land. You’re not going to recruit a kid to come here better than the Agnews. They’re leaders.”

Dijon Anderson – Defensive Back – Indianapolis, Ind./Warren Central HS

Height/Weight: 5’10”/170

Bio: Member of 2016 ALL-USA Central Indiana Super Team by Indianapolis Star … Two-time All-State honoree … Two-time All-Conference … Earned his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award

Hill’s take: “The three players we have from Indiana have all done well and we think Dijon can do the same. Dijon’s got some personality to him, which I like.”

Bryce Baringer – Punter – Waterford, Mich./Notre Dame Prep HS

Height/Weight: 6’3”/190

Bio: Earned a spot on the Kornblue Kicking Fab 50 Top Punters list as the No. 8 punter … Kicked a 44-yard field goal at Detroit’s Ford Field during the Prep Bowl.

Hill’s take: There’s no secret; we have to get better at the specialists. Bryce is a guy with a ton of ability. He can come in here and compete and help us out. We’re excited to get him. Coming from Michigan, he had other options. He will do a good job for us.

Makel Calhoun – Linebacker – Clearwater, Fla./Pinellas Park HS

Height/Weight: 6’3”/210

Bio: Defensive MVP in the All-County All-Star game … Led team in sacks with 18 in one season

Hill’s take: “He’s just an athlete. You put on his film and he’s playing safety as a junior, wide receiver as a senior and linebacker. He just gets bigger and bigger.”

Dalton Carde – Offensive Lineman – Valrico, Fla./Bloomingdale HS

Height/Weight: 6’9”/315

Bio: Started every game at left tackle during both his junior and senior seasons … Earned all-county and all-conference honors as a senior.

Hill’s take: Dalton Carde is the biggest kid we’ve probably ever signed here. He’s 6-foot-9, 315 pounds. He’s playing lacrosse right now, so it’s not like he can’t move. He’s a defensive player in lacrosse. He’s still young to football. He started playing when he was a sophomore.

Lucas Davis – Offensive Lineman – Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville HS

Height/Weight: 6’5″/280

Bio: Earned a spot on the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Super-30 team as one of the top-30 prospects in the St. Louis area … Earned All-Conference honors as a senior in 2016

Hill’s take: “We had a battle for Lucas but we have two kids from Edwardsville we’re super excited about.”

Max Edwards – Offensive Lineman – Johnston City, Ill./Johnston City HS

Height/Weight: 6’6”/285

Bio: Named 2016 unanimous Southern Illinois Coaches Association All-South Award winner … Three-year two-way starter at Johnston City

Hill’s take: “Max was our first offer in the 2017 class and he was the first to commit. He wanted to be a Saluki and there was no hesitation when other people offered him.”

Michael Elbert – Safety – Carl Junction, Mo./Carl Junction HS

Height/Weight: 6’2”/180

Bio: Two-time All-State selection … Three-time All-Conference, All-District and All-Area selection

Hill’s take: “We take a lot of stock in coming to camps and us evaluating him. I saw him running in camp … I really thought about offering him but told him ‘If you come back to camp in July, I’m not wasting your time’ and he came back and affirmed everything we saw.”

Calvin Francis, Jr. – Offensive Lineman – Orlando, Fla./Jones HS

Height/Weight: 6’2”/330

Bio: Three-star prospect by 247Sports.com … Two-star prospect by Rivals.com and Scout.com … Top-25 center prospect nationally by 247Sports, and the top FCS center prospect in the nation

Hill’s take: “We have three players right now from Jones High School … so Calvin became available and they got him up here. He’s a big kid. You’ll know him when you see him that’s for sure.”

Brandon George – Quarterback – Jacksonville, Fla./Jones (Okla.) HS

Height/Weight: 6’1”/202

Bio: Oklahoma’s 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year … Three-star prospect by 247Sports, Scout and Rivals … Named top-25 FCS commit in the nation recruit by HERO Sports … Top-20 prospect overall in the state of Oklahoma by Scout.com

Hill’s take: “If you look at his stats you almost think they’re not true. Quarterback is a position we feel like we can recruit nationally … The one thing that we put an emphasis on in a quarterback is I wanted a guy who had won a championship and Brandon did.”

Luke Giegling – Linebacker – St. Louis, Mo./St. John Vianney HS

Height/Weight: 6’4″/230

Bio: 2016 Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year in Missouri by the Missouri Football Coaches Association … First-team All-State and first-team Academic All-State as a senior in 2016 … Two time first-team All-Conference selection … Father, Matt Giegling, played baseball at SIU (1988-90) and won an MVC title (1990)

Hill’s take: “Another one we had to battle for. He committed in the hotel room the next morning [after his official visit.] He was No. 1 on our boards in the spring and [defensive coordinator Kraig] Paulson is fired up to get him.”

D.J. Hampton – Running Back – Sanford, Fla./Seminole HS

Height/Weight: 5’8”/175

Bio: No. 12 on the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Florida Super60 in the Class of 2017 (top FCS prospect) … No. 89 prospect in Florida by Orlando Sentinel … Two-star prospect by Scout.com

Hill’s take: “D.J. Hampton is another player in this class with a lot of personality. He reminds me of [former Saluki] Arkee Whitlock. He’s strong, he breaks tackles, he’s got speed to end it all.”

E’mare Hogan – Athlete – Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips HS

Height/Weight: 5’11”/170

Bio: No. 16 on the Orlando Sentinel’s Super60 in the Class of 2017 (Top 3 FCS commitment) … Two-star prospect by Scout.com … Earned a spot in the Central Florida All-Star game

Hill’s take: E’mare Hogan was our last commit in this class. He just came on his visit just this last weekend. He’s a lot like [rising junior running back Daquan Isom, they were high school teammates, but different in the sense that E’mare is more of a wide receiver. He’s illusive and will be fun to watch when we get him the ball.”

Devin Jones – Defensive Lineman – Du Quoin, Ill./Du Quoin HS

Height/Weight: 6’3”/265

Bio: Helped Du Quoin advance to the 2016 Class 2A Quarterfinals … Tallied 13 sacks, a INT and five touchdown receptions

Hill’s take: “I’ve known Devin since he was little so it means a lot to me to sign him. This definitely isn’t a signing to just go get a kid from Du Quoin. He can play multiple positions for us, he’ll find a spot on this team.”

Raphael Leonard – Wide Receiver – Starkville, Miss./East Mississippi CC

Height/Weight: 6’3”/190

Bio: Earned MACJC All-State and North Second-team honors at EMCC … Had 23 catches for 360 yards and seven touchdowns

Hill’s take: “Ralph started his career at Florida Atlantic and played as a true freshman. I remember seeing him in high school and knowing we couldn’t get him because he had a ton of FBS offers. I feel like Ralph can come play for us right away.”

Raquan Lindsey – Defensive Lineman – Portage, Ind./Portage HS

Height/Weight: 6’3”/235

Bio: All-Area and All-Conference selection … Made 136 career tackles and eight sacks

Hill’s take: “Raquan caught our eye … I watched him and there wasn’t one person that blocked him at Northwestern’s camp.”

Lane Pegram – Tight End/Fullback – Metropolis, Ill./Massac County HS

Height/Weight: 6’3”/210

Bio: Rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown as a fullback his senior year … Recorded 61 tackles, of which one was for loss, and forced three fumbles on the defensive line as a senior.

Hill’s take: Lane Pegram is another local kid who has come up here a bunch of times and kid we need to help build this program. He wants to be here and will do anything he can to be a great Saluki.

Travis Pickert – Tight End – Lanexa, Kan./St. James Academy HS

Height/Weight: 6’5”/225

Bio: Two-star prospect by Scout.com … Named one of Kansas City’s top-15 prospects by the Kansas City Star … First-team All-Conference, All-Metro Kansas City and All-State

Hill’s take: Travis is the kind of kid that can make an impact for us right away. We feel like we are getting very good in the tight-end and fullbacks room.

Quadarius Reed – Defensive Lineman – Yazoo City, Miss./Co-Lin CC

Height/Weight: 6’3”/280

Bio: Recorded seven tackles and two sacks over two years at Co-Lin … Six tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception in nine games as a freshman at Co-Lin.

Hill’s take: “Defensive line is a position where we felt we were losing a few guys and needed someone who can play right away and Q is that guy.”

Tate Rujawitz – Defensive Lineman – Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville HS

Height/Weight: 6’4”/305

Bio: First-team All-State in 2016 by Illinois High School Football Coaches Association and two-time first-team All-Conference selection … Named to St. Louis Post-Dispatch Super30 as one of the top prospects in the St. Louis area

Hill’s take: Tate has that big of nastiness that we are looking for. He plays hard, he plays the way the game is supposed to be played. He can play either side of the ball and could be a great offensive lineman, but he wants to start on the defense, so, that’s where we are going to let him start. That’s kind of his attitude, just a defensive mentality.

Sam Skinner – Defensive Lineman – Valrico, Fla./Bloomingdale HS

Height/Weight: 6’3”/240

Bio: First-team All-Conference and second-team All-Big County Preps selection … Led Bloomingdale (7A) to three best seasons in program history (21 wins over three seasons)

Hill’s take: Sam Skinner is the other kid that can get to the passer. Sam Skinner does a lot of things. He played offense and defense. In fact, we’ve had arguments in the staff room about what position he will play. But he will start at defensive end, and we’re excited about Sam.

Cole Steward – Tight End – Salem, Ill./Salem HS

Height/Weight: 6’4”/240

Bio: Three-time All-Conference selection … Played in the Illinois East-West Shrine Game and Southern Illinois All-Star game.

Hill’s take: Cole has a chance to compete. He’ll get here in the summer, and just like all these guys, will get stronger and get bigger. He has a future here. We’re excited to get a kid from Salem.

Bryson Strong – Linebacker – Fairview Heights, Ill./Belleville Althoff HS

Height/Weight: 5’11”/225

Bio: Earned a spot on the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Super-30 team as one of the top-30 prospects in the St. Louis area … Two-star prospect by Scout.com … Two-time All-State, three-time All-Metro, All-City and All-Conference honoree

Hill’s take: “I can’t say enough about Bryson Strong. He is the leader of this group. There’s always one kid who takes the bull by the horns and spearheads everything. If he was 6-foot, he’d be going to Iowa, even Iowa’s coaches told me that.”

Chucky Sullivan – Defensive Lineman – Vernon Hills, Ill./Adlai Stevenson HS

Height/Weight: 6’4”/245

Bio: All-Conference selection as a senior … Recorded 14 sacks in senior season … Spent last season at Jireh Prep … has all four years of eligibility remaining.

Hill’s take: “We haven’t had a prep school player in the time I’ve been here. He’s like a high school kid that’s getting here early. He’ll get the spring and five years to play four.”

Sam Thompson – Wide Receiver – St. Petersburg, Fla./Boca Ciega HS

Height/Weight: 6’1”/165

Bio: Named to Home Team 100 top-100 Tampa Bay Area prospects by Tampa Bay Times … Honorable Mention All-Tampa Bay Team by Tampa Bay Times

Hill’s take: His best days are ahead of him. He had an impressive high school career. A guy I played with in Arena just swears by him. We got to know the kid. If you know Withney Simon on our team, it’s just a personality that takes you over. Once you get to know him, you love him.

Jack White – Offensive Lineman – Chicago, Ill./Co-Lin CC

Height/Weight: 6’3″/310

Bio: All-Conference honoree at Co-Lin, First-team All-Conference and All-Area honoree at Mount Carmel High School and an honorable mention All-State pick

Hill’s take: “He’s won a state championship in Illinois … I’m really glad we get to be with him for spring ball … We feel like Jack can push to be on the field this season.”

Jaylin Wilson – Defensive Lineman – Viera, Fla./Viera HS

Height/Weight: 6’4”/240

Bio: First-team All-District by Brevard County High School Football coaches … Recorded 99 tackles and 16 sacks as a senior in 2016 and recovered three fumbles.

Hill’s take: “If you walk through the door, he may be the best looking kid in the class. He looks like he’s ready to play now.”

Staff writer Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SeanMCarley.

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