Illinois recruiting numbers 'way, way, way down', according to 30-year analyst

The number of Illinois prep football players signing with the state FCS schools may well be an all-time low, according to longtime recruiting analyst “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran.

Today is National Signing Day, the December date on the calendar when high school athletes officially declare which collegiate program they will enter upon graduation. Earlier this week, Prairie State Pigskin asked O’Halloran for an update on just where in-state recruiting by the four Illinois FCS programs stood.

“You mean what’s not happening?” O’Halloran said.

Elaborating, O’Halloran noted this is the worst he’s seen things in decades.

“By far. Not even close,” said O’Halloran, who has covered the Illinois recruiting scene for 30 years. “It’s way, way, way down.”

By O’Halloran’s account Tuesday night, there are approximately 58 Illinois prep recruits — 46 at the FBS level and 12 at the FCS level — signing.

Total number of FBS level signees from Illinois (Source: Rivals.com)

Class of 2022: 46 (number is based on official signees to date)

2021: 76

2020: 61

2019: 64

2018: 67

2017: 73

2016: 68

2015: 70

2014: 73

“I’m projecting the Class of 2021 to wind up having 52-55 names total sign FBS level letter of intent by the end of the February recruiting period,” O’Halloran said. “I’m also not very confident that we will see a huge spike in FCS names signing tomorrow (Dec. 15) or in early February.”

Why is this happening?

O’Halloran cites his main factors in this decline: the growing numbers of collegiate players entering the transfer portal and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Just a terrible, terrible combination of things right now that’s literally killing recruiting high school athletes. It really is. I’ll be shocked if that’s not the big story coming out of this,” O’Halloran said.

O’Halloran isn’t alone in his thoughts. Many high school coaches around the state have expressed similar views.

Terry Fenton, wide receivers coach for East St. Louis High School, pulled no punches with this Monday tweet:

Yet, those thoughts aren’t exclusive to Illinois as exhibited by this tweet from a Tennessee high school coach.

In addition, O’Halloran stated on his Rivals.com website, “The State of Illinois not playing fall football in 2020 limited the ability of college programs to truly scout and evaluate players.”

O’Halloran further wrote, ” . . . and combine all of those factors, (and there’s) no question (it) hurts high school football recruiting process in a historic fashion.”

What does this mean?

Collegiate rosters are in flux even more so than in previous years, again because of the transfer portal as well as the return of players who are being granted an additional year of eligibility due to the Covid year.

“Get ready for a lot of preferred walk-ons coming (into programs),” O’Halloran said in reference to student-athletes who are not being offered scholarships initially but rather have the opportunity to earn them after a year or two of college. “All of these schools do it now.”

In an early fall media address Illinois State head coach Brock said, “You’re telling recruits there’s not a lot out there . . . Scholarships are way down, way down.”

By whatever means they pursue players, college coaches must still fill their rosters with athletes they believe will produce winning teams.

“Show me a good coach and I’ll show you good players, so it’s pretty important (laughs) that you go find the right ones,” Eastern Illinois head coach Adam Cushing said on a Nov. 2 Ohio Valley Conference Zoom call. “We have a great group of guys committed; I truly believe in these young men, and then we’re onto the next group of guys.”

Will National Signing Day morph into one date?

As things presently stand, there are two National Signing Days: today’s as well as in February.

However, there have been reports of the NCAA eliminating the two separate signing dates and instead just having one January day.

“I haven’t heard a lot about that honestly, but it wouldn’t surprise me,” O’Halloran said. “It splits it right down the middle. It gets rid of that early December date but pushes up the February date as well. The beginning of December is too much of a coaching carousel, that continues to be the issue for sure.”

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