National signing day, Dec. 2020: Eastern Illinois Panthers

National signing day, Dec. 2020:  Eastern Illinois Panthers
O'Brien Field. (photo courtesy of EIU Athletics)

(Editor’s note: This is one part of a series on December signees by Illinois FCS programs. We conclude tomorrow with Western Illinois.)

There were times when Eastern Illinois started five freshmen in its offensive line last fall. While that group certainly took its lumps, the Panther coaching staff knows the value of early experience. Those same coaches also realize the importance of depth.

EIU football announced the addition of 23 new players Wednesday during the first day of the December signing period. Included in the mix were two offensive linemen from the high school ranks (though one is also listed as a long snapper) along with three transfers.

That trio consists of two junior college transfers and one from a four-year school.

Perhaps that should come as no surprise as EIU head coach Adam Cushing coached the offensive line in his long stint as an assistant at Northwestern.

“The staff did an incredible job on putting this class together,” Cushing said in an EIU release. “The day that COVID started to impact this recruiting class, we didn’t flinch, we embraced the mantra of what does this make possible.  The staff remained focused on finding the best players we could for our program athletically, academically and socially.  I can’t say it enough times, the credit goes to the guys on our staff that grinded this out.”


“In this class we 23 players from several different places including a third of the class from Illinois,” Cushing said. “The point is we are going to go recruit where we have relationships to get the high character players we are looking to add to this program.”

Where are they from?

As Cushing mentioned, nine players played Illinois prep football. Eastern also landed four players from Ohio and three from Kentucky — all from Louisville. 

Two players each came from Michigan, North Carolina and Texas. The other player hails from Missouri.

What positions do they play?

Six recruits are defensive backs, while four play on the offensive line and two are linebackers. The class also included a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kicker and an “athlete”.

What accomplishments do they bring?

The class sports a 3.3 grade point average with 16 of the 23 players named team captain.  The group has helped teams win 25 conference championships, make 48 state playoff appearances and 21 state championship game appearances.  

This weekend three of the players will face off against each other in the Kentucky Class 6A state championship game.  In addition the group includes 29 all-conference selections, six all-state selections and 19 of the 23 were multi-sport athletes in high school.   

Eastern will play a seven-game Ohio Valley Conference spring schedule beginning Feb. 21. 

EIU December signees:

(Name, position, height, weight, hometown, previous school)

Nick Coates                  Defensive Back             5-10      175       Louisville, Ky.               Male HS
Liam Conaghan             Defensive Line              6-3        240       Glenview, Ill.                  Loyola Academy
Simon France                Offensive Line               6-1        265       Elyria, Ohio                   Elyria HS
Jeremy Gelino               Linebacker                    6-0        220       Lombard, Ill.                  Glenbard South HS
Zachareus Gentry          Defensive Back             6-0        165       Anna, Texas                  Anna HS
Alton Jefferson             Defensive Line              6-0        260       Louisville, Ky.               Trinity HS
Chauncey Lee               Wide Receiver               5-9        175       Bellwood, Ill.                 Immaculate Conception HS
Jason Moore                 Running Back                5-10      190       Chicago, Ill.                   De La Salle Institute
Julian Patino                 Kicker                           5-10      210       Chicago, Ill.                   Chicago Mount Carmel
AJ Pontrelli                   Defensive Line              6-2        205       Lemont, Ill.                    Lemont HS
Kinstin Reaves              Defensive Line              6-0        285       Statesville, NC              Statesville HS
Ethan Roberts               Defensive Line              6-0        290       Lumberton, NC              Saint Paul’s HS
Blake Ruffin                  Safety                          6-4        200       Louisville, Ky.               Trinity HS
AJ Sanders                   Safety                          6-0        185       Pickerington, Ohio         Pickerington Central HS
Matthew Spofford         Athlete                          6-1        200       Painesville, Ohio           Riverside HS
Elijawah Tolbert             Linebacker                    6-1        225       Country Club Hills, Ill.    Thornton Township HS
Zach Trainor                  Quarterback                  6-1        205       Milford, Mich.                Walled Lake Western HS
Collin Tyson                  Defensive Back             6-0        185       Kansas City, Mo.           Platte County R-3 HS
Jack Valente                 Off. Line / LS                6-4        250       Batavia, Ill.                    Batavia HS
Sereno Winn                 Defensive Back             6-1        165       Cincinnati, Ohio             Walnut Hills HS


NAME                           POSITION                    HT        WT       HOMETOWN                 LAST SCHOOL

Ben Mason                   Offensive Line               6-3        290       Lucas, Texas                 Navarro College 

Michael McNicholas       Offensive Line               6-4        310       Lombard, Ill.                  Kent State University 

Dakota Kerr                  Offensive Line               6-4        275       Brownstown, Mich.        College of DuPage 

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