Daily Egyptian

Saluki football adds returner and quarterback transfers

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

Head football coach Nick Hill on Tuesday announced the additions of cornerback/punt returner Craig James and quarterback Josh Straughan to the team.

James, who will be a third-year junior in 2016, transferred from Minnesota, where he was the primary punt returner for the last two seasons.

Hill said the familiarity with coaches and being close to home helped in recruiting James.

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“It’s a kid with a lot of talent,” he said. “He’s coming here with the right attitude … [he will] make us better.”

James attended Edwardsville High School where he was rated a three-star recruit and No. 27 overall in Illinois by ESPN.

He averaged 8.7 yards a return, had eight tackles and three pass breakups as a true freshman. James played in five games and returned 12 punts last season before a season-ending injury.

Hill said he is focusing more on recruiting incoming freshman rather than transfers because he was hired after the junior college signing day.

“You want to be selective with the guys you add,” he said. “There still might be guys we add, but we’re going to build [the team] with high school kids and develop our own guys.”

Hill said the initial counts for high school signings could be upward of 30 players, but the team will probably sign about 20.

SIU relied on sophomore wide receiver Matt DeSomer and senior wide receiver Billy Reed for punt returns last season. The duo fielded eight and five returns, respectively. Reed averaged 9.6 yards per return and had a long of 18.

James becomes the ninth cornerback on the roster.

Junior Ryan Neal and sophomore Jefferson Vea finished fifth and eighth on the team last season with 60 and 48 tackles, respectively, to lead the cornerbacks.

James was recruited by former SIU coach Jerry Kill during his time at Minnesota.

Straughan, who will be a fifth-year senior, transferred from Division II Stillman College and will have a year of eligibility left at SIU as a graduate student.

He was a three-year starter at Stillman, and threw for more than 5,400 yards. Straughan graduated in December with a 3.98 GPA in health sciences. Hill said Straughan sent the Salukis his tapes and they followed up by contacting his coaches.

He joins sophomore Sam Straub and redshirt freshman Tanner Hearn as Saluki quarterbacks.

Hill said the best quarterback will play next season and he expects a battle for the spot this spring.

“It’s an open competition, all of our current guys know that,” he said. “[Straughan] has proven he can play at a high level in Division II … he was a Division II All-American.”

DeSomer also played under center for the Salukis last season, completing two of his three passes with one interception. Straub completed his only pass attempt.

Hill said the core of the offensive scheme will likely stay the same, but noted the coaches will have to work around losing former quarterback Mark Iannotti, who would scramble out of the pocket.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3333

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