After taking the helm of Missouri football eight days ago, Eliah Drinkwitz wasn’t surprised with anything that transpired on national signing day.
Since making the move to Columbia from Appalachian State to be the 33rd head football coach in MU history, one of Drinkwitz’s top priorities has been to maintain Class of 2020 recruits and make them comfortable with changes he was instituting.
All 10 players who officially signed with the Tigers on Wednesday were previously committed to the program under former coach Barry Odom.
“It's nearly impossible to try to add somebody (in eight days) unless you have a previous connection, so what we were trying to do was ensure that the spots that were committed, that we knew were necessary, was to rebuild those relationships and make a connection as quickly as possible, to try and keep them committed. Anything we were unsure about, let's not rush and take the wrong person or the wrong fit,” Drinkwitz said.
“Let's just be patient. When the full staff is here, then we'll finalize that in the second signing period, which is really the purpose of having both the signing periods.”
The newest group of recruits includes Rock Bridge linebacker Will Norris and Kirkwood wide receiver Jay Maclin, cousin of former Missouri All-American Jeremy Maclin.
Four-star wide receiver Javian “JJ” Hester and running back Elijah Young signed with Missouri on Wednesday despite reopening their recruitment after Odom was fired.
For Young specifically, Drinkwitz said Missouri's recent pedigree of successful tailbacks helped in retaining his commitment.
“Mizzou is still Mizzou football, and (Young) had seen what our fans and what this university can provide him as a student-athlete, and I think those two things meshed and found the connection,” Drinkwitz said.
Three more in-state recruits, all from the St. Louis area, joined Missouri on Wednesday: Chaminade quarterback Brady Cook as well as the offensive line duo of Francis Howell’s Drake Heismeyer and Mehlville’s Mitchell Walters.
Rounding out the group of 10 Missouri signees is kicker and punter Harrison Mevis from Warsaw, Indiana, the likely replacement for Tucker McCann, along with high school teammates Jaylon Carlies and Tyler Jones, defensive backs from Winter Garden, Florida.
After its Wednesday additions, Missouri stands at 74 scholarship players (37 on offense, 36 on defense, one on special teams). Due to NCAA sanctions, Missouri will only have 81 scholarships available for next season, down from the regular 85.
Drinkwitz said at least two players are slated to be early enrollees this coming semester: Cook and Maclin. Nothing is official until high school exams end, however.
Despite not having officially named a new running backs or wide receivers coach, the Tigers added three players from those positions.
“I started with that, ‘This is the direction that we're pushing the program moving forward, and my job every day is to hold everybody accountable to the vision that I hold for the program,’” Drinkwitz said of what he told prospective running backs and wide receivers.
Missouri had two signing-day losses to Arkansas, with offensive lineman Ray Curry and running back Dominique Johnson both switching from the Tigers to the Razorbacks.
Former Missouri commits Cooper Davis (Illinois), Jalen Logan-Redding (Minnesota) and Robert Wooten (Virginia Tech) signed with other Power Five Conference schools.
East St. Louis (Ill.) offensive lineman Kevon Billingsley remains committed to Missouri but did not sign with the program Wednesday.
“I didn't have an expectation of what it should be or what it wasn't going to be. I just knew we were going to sign some really good players,” Drinkwitz said of national signing day. “There really weren't any surprises one way or the other. There weren't any highs or lows. So with it being eight days, really the next signing period for me is going to be where we've got to hit the mark. Today was kind of a free throw.”
Drinkwitz said he doesn’t plan to recruit any players who committed to his former program at Appalachian State.
“I appreciated my time at App and did not want to do anything that I didn't think would be in the best interest of both of us,” Drinkwitz said.
When asked about early evaluations of his current roster, Drinkwitz didn’t want to cast doubt over certain personnel groups, especially since he believes he won’t know exactly what the current crop of Tigers are capable of until after spring football ends.
Drinkwitz did mention that depth could be an issue at wide receiver, offensive line and that the safety group is relatively unproven.
Efforts are already underway to fill out the rest of the Tigers’ Class of 2020, with Drinkwitz saying that offers went out to a few athletes Wednesday.
Chance Luper, a wide receiver from North Richland Hills, Texas, stated on social media that he had been offered by Missouri on Wednesday. Luper is a Boise State commit but did not sign with the Broncos as of press time Wednesday.
Drinkwitz said he plans to have a recruiting strategy that will be different than what Odom did at Missouri. Drinkwitz prefers to have certain assistant coaches tied to regions of Missouri and the country, while Odom mainly recruited based on the prospective player’s position.
“No. 1, it all starts with relationships,” Drinkwitz said. “When you’re a position recruiter, you're not seeing the same faces all the time because the same schools aren't always producing the same player, and recruiting is relationship-driven. You have to get all the information, whether it's from the counselor, from the teacher, from the influencer in the community. You've got to be able to dig and find the information about the young man to make sure his character and work ethic match the potential that he has.
“In the state of Missouri and wherever else we might go, we have to have a relationship-oriented recruiting process, and that's from my time as an assistant coach in high school, that's what I always respected was, I knew I could trust this guy in the recruiting process. When somebody just shows up for one guy and then leaves, that turns into a transactional process instead of relationship-oriented.”
Drinkwitz said he has tried to have conversations with as many Missouri players who took the field this past season as possible in his short time as head coach.
No MU players with eligibility remaining have been reported as entering the transfer portal as of Wednesday.