Indiana landed a historic in-state haul with its 2013 football recruiting class.
But IU coach Kevin Wilson wasn’t focused on his success during an interview in late May.
He was still mulling over the Hoosiers’ misses.
Even though we did a good, good job this past year recruiting, it’s been hit and miss. We went after some guys we didn’t get, some guys we liked and they didn’t like us, or we didn’t like them – whatever as you’re doing your (evaluation), the third-year coach said. I still think there’s a little distrust. We haven’t had overwhelming success as far as victories yet.
After putting together a top-50 class with five of the top-20 players in the state, the ones that got away – Bishop Luers linebacker Jaylon Smith, Avon defensive end Elijah Daniel, Center Grove tight end Nate Wozniak, Carmel linebacker John Kenny and Warren Central linebacker Tim Kimbrough – still sting.
It’s part of the new attitude in Bloomington.
Wilson and his staff feel they can compete with the Notre Dames of the world, who scooped up Smith, and SEC programs Auburn and Georgia, who nabbed Daniel and Kimbrough.
Fort Wayne, in particular, has been marked as a battleground for IU in the coming years – just as it was in 2013, when the Hoosiers missed Smith but grabbed Homestead receiver Isaac Griffith.
There’s a number of quality players again this year, Wilson said. We got to keep doing a good job in this state. We hit it hard this spring recruiting. A couple kids we’re after hard, we want to get them down this summer to build some stronger relationships.
Hopefully we get them. We need to get them. Because the best players in Indiana need to play in Bloomington.
And as the culture at IU changes, some of them are.
Donovan Clark of South Side, the best cornerback in the state among rising seniors, gave his commitment to the Hoosiers on July 2. Wilson moved early to offer Bishop Luers wide receiver Austin Mack, a 2016 prospect.
And IU has a pipeline growing in Fort Wayne, one that includes current Hoosier Kenny Mullen, among others.
That pipeline will be essential in the coming years, AWP Sports president Michael Ledo said. Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert , now in the NFL, as well as Ohio State running back Rod Smith and Carroll senior Drue Tranquill are among those he said prove that northern Indiana is a recruiting hotbed now.
Obviously, in any business, you don’t want to lose what’s in your backyard, Ledo said. Maybe they thought the talent wasn’t here before, or the athletes weren’t as polished or what.
But now, I think that we’re proving with the Tyler Eiferts of the world, and the Rod Smiths, and the Jaylon Smiths, and the Donovan Clarks, and the Drue Tranquills that we have that talent here.
That talent has brought IU, and other schools across the nation, to Fort Wayne as well as the rest of the state.
The Hoosiers have to recruit against nationally recognized programs with only five wins to their name in the past two seasons.
Carroll coach Doug Dinan said the staff has made up for a lack of recent success by selling a vision and building strong relationships with in-state high schools.
Wilson has been in Dinan’s classroom on multiple occasions – not just to recruit his players, but to talk.
The Indiana staff has been very open in their communications in terms of recruiting all kids within Fort Wayne and the northeastern Indiana area, Dinan said. They try to do a tremendous job of being in the schools and assistant coaches coming into the schools. If they’re not recruiting a specific athlete from your school, there are open lines of communication and inquiring about athletes that are in the area.
Those connections have gone a long way in building up the IU program despite the lack of success on paper.
Mack was the first player in his class in Indiana to get an offer from the Hoosiers.
He said the perception of IU, for both him and other players he’s talked to in the state, has evolved since Wilson took the reins.
An IU scholarship offer means more than it used to, especially after the Hoosiers’ recruiting efforts in 2013.
Indiana’s not a basketball school. It’s also now a football school, Mack said. We think that if you’re good enough to play Indiana football, you’re good enough to play anywhere.
Clark, the second instate commitment of 2014, is tangible proof of that. His commitment to the Hoosiers relied heavily on his comfort level with the coaching staff, as well as the positive momentum in Bloomington.
They just got a winning attitude, said Clark, who was the seventh commit in the 2014 class. It’s a whole new attitude down there at IU. You see they’re getting recruits they never got, the whole attitude has changed there, and I can definitely see they’re changing the program and turning it around.
But Wilson knows a winning attitude isn’t enough. Actually winning, and doing it this season, is crucial.
Year Three needs to be a bowl-game season, Wilson said. If his team meets that goal, and the in-state talent keeps coming, then the Hoosiers could climb from the bottom of the Big Ten.
But we’re battling right now, we’re competing right now. It’s a dogfight. Some guys we get, some guys we don’t get – just like some of those Fort Wayne guys, Wilson said. We want to build relationships and earn trust and earn the right to get some good players. But there’s great ball in Indiana. It’s getting better every year. And the better we do instate, the better our program’s going to be.