While the country has remained in quarantine, Northern Illinois University head coach Thomas Hammock and staff have stayed busy. The Huskies landed 10 known verbal commitments to its Class of 2021, and have kept a steady growth the past month.
So how has NIU kept the momentum going on the recruiting trail during the NCAA dead period?
"I know for myself, a big part of the appeal was just the whole atmosphere at NIU," Aurora Christian and NIU commit junior QB Ethan Hampton said. "NIU has a great staff and they truly care for the players. NIU is always very competitive and they have a great track record over the years of success."
Hampton pointed toward NIU head coach Thomas Hammock as a key in attracting and landing commitment.
"Coach (Thomas) Hammock is just way more involved with the whole recruiting process than any other school that was recruiting me,” Hampton said. “At other schools you might meet the head coach for a few minutes then they disappear. Coach Hammock was with the recruits and the families the entire time I visited NIU. Coach Hammock, along with the rest of the NIU coaches, are always interacting with all of the players making visits. They also stayed in touch with me and we had several discussions and this was even before they offered me."
Are there any other factors?
The early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the Huskies are building up strong connections to recruits very early in the process.
"NIU was one of the first schools who really recruited me," Richmond-Burton junior offensive tackle and NIU commit Luke Eckardt said. "They started stopping into school pretty regularly and NIU was the first Junior Day I was invited to attend. After the NIU Junior Day things started to really get going and we started to get to know each other really well and things took off from there."
Hammock’s NIU program, in some ways, has taken a page out of former Huskies coach Joe Novak's recruiting playbook. Like Novak, Hammock is building a foundation of in-state names then working its way out of state to fill up a recruiting class.
NIU currently has 10 known verbal commitments to the Class of 2021 so far this spring, six of which are in-state commitments. That list includes Solorio S Brian Whitsey, Batavia WR Trey Urwiler, Aurora Christian QB Ethan Hampton, Sterling DE Trevon Jordan, Richmond-Burton OL Luke Eckardt and Marian Catholic RB Tajheem Lawson.
Also taken from the Novak recruiting how-to is that NIU is not putting out hundreds of offers. NIU currently has just 61 known scholarship offers extended in the Class of 2021. This is certainly on the low end for verbal offers that have been extended in the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies make sure to get to know their recruits before offering a scholarship, and that approach undoubtedly adds more value.
With no spring evaluation period this year — and the summer camp circuit still in question because of the ongoing pandemic — NIU is placing trust in its recruiting board and evaluations. While the DeKalb school has certainly extended early scholarship offers to several highly-ranked in-state names, they have also not hesitated to extend offers and take commitments from lesser known names.
Here’s an example: The aforementioned Jordan (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) had just one FBS-level offer (NIU) and was drawing limited recruiting interest. But Jordan has the length, frame and upside potential to develop into a high level player and a major sleeper. And Eckardt (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) played his last high school game in late November at Huskie Stadium in leading Richmond-Burton to a 4A state title. Eckardt, who at 270 pounds still looks thin, is another potential leader who has the raw tools, frame and potential to develop into a bigger, stronger high-level player in college.
What’s the downside of all these early verbal commitments?
I have no doubts that higher profile FBS schools will continue to recruit the kids who have already pledged to NIU. The Huskies have lost their share of names over the years. But they’re betting that the early work and loyalty to those verbal commitments will pay dividends.
While winning a recruiting title in April means very little, it's clear that NIU is having early recruiting success.