Editor’s note: This is part one of the annual Prairie State Pigskin series on four new faces — two on offense and two on defense — who likely will play big roles on the field for Illinois FCS teams this fall.
As a high school athlete, Markenzy Pierre was impressed by the bond a former Eastern Illinois football coach made on his family.
When it was time for the Syracuse running back to choose a new school via the transfer portal this off-season, current EIU coaches made the same impactful impression.
“Dino Babers is a great coach,” Pierre said of the Panthers’ former head coach, who won a combined 19 games in 2012 and 2013 in Charleston. “He recruited me out of high school. The connection he made with my parents was one of the biggest reasons for me going to Syracuse.”
When it came time for Pierre to explore new opportunities via the NCAA transfer portal, EIU was part of a discussion with Babers, who is in his sixth season as Syracuse’s head coach.
“We discussed all possibilities, and Eastern did come up because it was one of his former schools,” Pierre said.
During his recent recruitment, though, Panthers head coach Adam Cushing and running backs coach Omar Young played the biggest role.
“What really made me commit to Eastern was the connection I made with Coach Young and Coach Cushing,” said Pierre, who played in 34 games at Syracuse as a running back and return specialist. “This was the best opportunity for me to put out all my skills.”
At 215 pounds, Pierre offers EIU an experienced back to help the Panthers rev up an offense that scored only 20 points a game during the spring season.
Pierre describes himself as “an all-around back that can bring this offense to the next level.”
During high school in Kissimmee, Fla., he ran for more than 5,000 yards. While at Syracuse, he was backup running back and a core special teams players.
His experience so far at Eastern has shown Pierre that the offense has potential to improve quickly.
“Throughout training camp, I’ve seen big, explosive plays,” he said. “I know we’re going to be able to translate that come game time.”
Tyler Ringwood, WR, senior
Ringwood spent three seasons at FBS Charlotte, where he was the third-leading receiver in 2019 and led the team with five catches and 64 yards receiving in the program’s first-ever bowl game – the 2019 Bahamas Bowl.
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he is the heaviest of EIU’s three starting receivers and will provide a big target for young quarterback Otto Kuhns.
Blake Ruffin, S, freshman
A true freshman from Louisville, Ky., the 6-4, 200-pound Ruffin drew rave reviews from teammates and coaches in fall camp. He will start the season as the team’s No. 2 strong safety. As a prep senior, his Trinity High School team finished 10-0, won a state title, and allowed opposing teams five points a game.
“He can really run,” EIU head coach Adam Cushing said. “He’s real physical.”
But what sticks out first about Ruffin, according to his coach, is his understanding of EIU’s defense.
“We kind of have three different safety positions, and he knows them all,” Cushing said. “He has made sure that he knows them all.”
Russell Dandy, CB, junior
A two-year contributor at Butte College in California, Dandy adds some college experience to a young secondary. He will start at one cornerback spot opposite freshman Tyris Harvey.
Dandy had 25 tackles and six pass breakups over two seasons at Butte, the same school that produced Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.