How NIU is getting it done on recruiting trail despite quarantine

USA Today

How NIU is getting it done on recruiting trail despite quarantine

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. 

RELATED: IHSA cancels all spring sports state tournaments due to coronavirus pandemic

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.

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Northern Illinois football coach fooled by fake verbal commitment on Twitter

Northern Illinois football coach fooled by fake verbal commitment on Twitter

Right now, it feels vitally important that we try and search out brief moments of levity. Things aren't going great – it snowed in Chicago today, for example, WITHOUT EVEN ASKING – and we can't rely on the usual crutch that is sports to distract us from *gestures broadly.* If searching out moments of zen feels too arduous or naive to attempt right now, I wouldn't blame you either. But friends, you're in luck. Your search is over.

RELATED: Why The Bears Should Draft A Safety In The Second Round

The hero of our story is Patrick Flowers. Is Patrick a real person? I don't know and honestly who's to even say what's real at this point. But Patrick exists – someway, somehow. And more importantly, he exists on Twitter. A quick peruse of Pat's timeline would indicate that, actually, Pat is very real in the sense that he's a video game character. From a defunct game. That hasn't been updated since 2014. 

Remember: Patrick Flowers, the 5-star QB recruit from Joplin High School and ESPN's 84th-highest ranked prospect, also happens to be, you know, not real. It's critical that you keep this minor detail in mind because as it turns out, not everyone has been on the same page about our guy Pat. You see, Pat's been "announcing" scholarship offers on the TL, and two days ago he informed his 5,000+ (!!) followers that he'd gotten an offer to play at Northern Illinois. Congrats Pat! That's a good pickup by the Huskies. 

The only problem was that Thomas Hammock, who's actually the very-real, human coach of NIU, had never heard of Patrick Flowers. Hammock is the only person that offers scholarships, you see, and he didn't offer one to Flowers. So he did what any football coach/adult-over-55 on Twitter would do and bit on the prank hook, line, and sinker. Hammock PROMPTLY arrived in Flowers' – who is a video game character, remember – DMs: 

Not only that, but Pat's shenanigans earned himself a block from the HC:

Hammock eventually figured out that the recruit he'd never heard of with a video game avatar was in fact a recurit he'd never heard of from a video game, and was a good sport about it all:

- fin - 

Edgy Tim's recruiting news and notes

USA Today

Edgy Tim's recruiting news and notes

Lake Forest’s Mac Uihlein, a four-star junior inside linebacker (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), gave Northwestern his verbal commitment this past weekend. 

“Northwestern is like family,” Uihlein told WildcatReport's Lou Vaccher. “It’s the relationships you build at Northwestern that make it more than a four-year decision. It’s a lifetime decision.

"The academic opportunities they provide are amazing, and it’s definitely something I want to take advantage of,” said Uihlein, who carries a 5.01 GPA (on a 5.0 scale) at Lake Forest and scored a 26 on his ACT. “Coach Fitzgerald, and Coach McGarigle and all the guys they recruit are just great people I want to be around. Plus, Northwestern is close to home, so my family can get to games easily.”

Uihlein said that it was during a phone conversation with McGarigle that he realized “Northwestern was the place I wanted to be. My values line up with Northwestern’s, so I decided there was no reason to wait. I wanted to make my decision now."

Uihlein is now the fourth known verbal commitment for the Northwestern Class of 2021 and the first known in-state commitment.

Richmond-Burton junior offensive tackle Luke Eckardt (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) gave the NIU Huskies and head coach Thomas Hammock his verbal commitment late last week.

"We went back and forth for a bit with NIU, but once they offered me, it's just too good of a fit and opportunity for me to pass up. So I committed," Eckardt said. "I had been thinking more and more about making an early college decision, and I feel great about committing to NIU."

Eckardt, who was starting to see his overall recruiting stock rise this early spring, discussed why he committed to the nearby NIU Huskies.

"I just really like the coaches at NIU. We've been talking a lot, and I've gotten to build a strong relationship with them. I've also been able to make visits to NIU, and I really like the campus and the facilities. NIU is also close to home, and that also played a factor in my decision. I'll be able to go to school, get a good education, and also have my family and friends see me play in college. Everything about NIU feels right to me, and my family is also behind me and is excited about my decision. NIU is building something special, and I wanted to be a part of it."

Eckardt also admitted that the timing of his decision during the COVID-19 pandemic no question played a role in his choice.

"It (COVID-19) definitely played a role in making my decision this early. With the NCAA basically pushing back recruiting (the NCAA recently extended the dead period from April 15 to May 31), I really won't have a chance to get out to visit any other schools. I also didn't want to extend or drag out the recruiting process for a long time. I'm extremely comfortable with NIU. The school and the football program is a great fit for me, and I felt ready to make my decision. So I committed."

Luke Eckardt is the sixth known verbal commitment in the NIU Class of 2021 and the fourth known in-state commitment. Eckardt joins Aurora Christian quarterback Ethan Hampton, Solorio safety Brian Whitsey and Batavia Wide Receiver Trey Urwiler in the Huskies Class of 2021.

Willowbrook junior offensive tackle Enrique Cruz Jr. (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) has seen his recruiting stock take off over the past week or so, adding his first offer last week from Syracuse.

"Syracuse Coach (Mike) Lynch found me on Twitter a week or two ago," Cruz said. "We've been in contact quite a bit ever since then, and we FaceTime called on Saturday. That's when Syracuse offered me a scholarship ."

Cruz discussed his initial impressions of adding his first scholarship offer from Syracuse.

"I know that Syracuse is a really nice school, and I've been online and able to do a little bit of research on them. They offer a strong education, and it's just a great offer from a great school. The offer from Syracuse was a big surprise for sure. The coaches from Syracuse said that they want me to come and visit them as soon as we are allowed to make college visits."

Cruz Jr., who added new offers from Louisville and Western Illinois on Monday, has also been in touch with Iowa, NIU and Rutgers. He made a Junior Day visit earlier this winter to Iowa.

Nazareth Academy junior defensive tackle Drew Hughes (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) saw his recruiting stock take off early this spring despite an NCAA-forced football recruiting dead period in response to COVID-19.

"It's been really exciting getting these offers all of a sudden," Hughes said. "I have offers now from Miami of Ohio, Kent State and also North Dakota. I didn't expect to be playing Xbox one day and then getting on the phone with college coaches who want to offer me scholarships the next. It's been pretty wild."

Hughes filled us in on his latest recruiting news and new suitors so far this spring.

"I have offers from Miami of Ohio, Kent State and North Dakota. I've been in contact quite a bit with the coaches from South Dakota, South Dakota State, plus Akron. I've made visits so far to Miami of Ohio, NIU, Tennessee, South Carolina and Auburn, and also Iowa. I had visits planned to Western Michigan and Ball State, but those visits got canceled. I'm hoping that we can eventually be allowed to make college visits again, and I'm also looking at visiting Miami of Ohio again, along with North Dakota."