Recruiting has taken on an entirely different feel this year, as college athletics continue to feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of hosting recruits on campus here at Missouri State, we offered them virtual tours. And instead of our staff fanning out and visiting with the young men and their families, we met with them via Zoom, in addition to the usual phone calls, text messages and social-media outreaches.
We nonetheless managed to add 19 newcomers after the early signing period began on Dec. 16 — 10 high school players, four junior-college transfers and five other transfers. And the way things have shaken out, a handful of them will be afforded the opportunity to make an even more immediate opportunity than might be the case in a typical season.
That’s because some of them will enroll in January, in time to suit up for our eight-game Missouri Valley Conference schedule, which begins with a Feb. 20 visit to North Dakota, and runs through April 17.
It is, in effect, the college football equivalent of a free-agent infusion, as was suggested to defensive coordinator Ryan Beard during our Zoom news conference on Signing Day. And Ryan did not disagree.
“It’s almost like you get a timeout in your season to adjust some things, to make sure your package fits the next few games coming up,” Ryan said, adding that a team like ours is “able to patch a few things together, to make you more effective.”
As I write this, we don’t know exactly how many of our newcomers will be on hand for the restart, but we expect a half-dozen or so. That includes the most heralded of our recruits, defensive back/return specialist Kyriq McDonald, who spent two years at no less a program than Alabama (one of them a redshirt season), and another at Cincinnati. Plagued by seizures in the past, he has been cleared medically, and as Ryan told reporters, Kyriq is “an electric ballplayer.”
“He’s going to play anywhere in the secondary for us,” Ryan said on Signing Day. “We’re going to pressure with him. We’re going to play a bunch of man-to-man coverage, and put him in situations where he can win one-on-one battles.”
We also hope to have quarterback Matt Struck, a transfer from Idaho State, on hand. In 2019 he threw for 2,334 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Bengals, while being intercepted 12 times. If nothing else he will offer some competition to Jaden Johnson, who started all three of our fall games at QB.
Another likely spring addition is that of running back Tobias Little, a transfer from Louisville now recovered from a 2018 knee injury. He’s a guy I know a lot about, as we recruited him when I was coaching the Cardinals. A converted linebacker, he’s big (237 pounds) and fast (4.5 in the 40). And certainly he knows the offense. He will help.
We also hope to have one or two of the offensive linemen who transferred in, like Sean Fitzgerald, who came over from Coastal Carolina; Kendrick Davis, a graduate transfer from Division II Fort Hays State; or Nick Gallo, who joins us from Independence Community College, in Kansas.
That positional group was a focal point of our recruiting efforts, as we added seven offensive linemen in all.
“The No. 1 thing you’re going see,” O-line coach Jeremy Darveau told reporters on Signing Day, “is that they’re nasty.”
We definitely needed some of that. And we feel we’ve addressed our other needs as well, as we look ahead to the players’ return on Jan. 6, the beginning of offseason workouts five days later and the start of formal practices on Jan. 22.
“We’re going to bring these guys in,” recruiting coordinator Ronnie Fouch told reporters on Signing Day, “try to get them acclimated as soon as possible, and try to build a championship program.”