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INDIANA UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 20, 2017
TOM ALLEN: Welcome to the 2018 Signing Class Press Conference. Really excited about the group of young men that we've assembled today. I say we -- it takes a tremendous amount of effort on a lot of peoples' parts, nine on the field coaches that go out and recruit, but also tremendous support staff in recruiting and all of our staff on campus that do a great job when student-athletes come to visit with their families, whether it's an unofficial visit, official visit. It just takes a lot of people to be able to produce a class like this that we really are excited about and feel very, very encouraged by the way we've addressed some strong needs that we had in our program.
So I really want to just begin by saying we've represented ten different states with this class, which has really kind of been a consistent theme in our program over the years. We've done a great job of trying to address the best fits for our program, whether that's two hours away, five minutes away, ten hours away, whatever it happens to be. We just want to be able to find those guys and those families that fit with us in regards to the kind of cultural atmosphere we're trying to create here, the kind of student-athlete we want that's focused on academics, the kind of character we're looking for, and obviously the kind of athletes we believe could help us achieve our goals in the Big Ten.
From that dynamic, we've got five from the state of Florida, four from the state of Illinois, four from Tennessee, three from Indiana, two from Georgia, and we have five from individual states. 12 on defense, 8 on offense, 2 athletes, and a specialist signed, a kicker.
I really feel like, even though this class is not finished yet, being the two signing day period we have for the first time, we'll address a few more needs defensively with the rest of our class, but the majority of them we're signing with us today. Everyone that was committed to us prior to today signed with us, which is very encouraging, showed that they were truly committed to us and we were committed to them, and then we had a few more that joined in as well.
So just kind of want to go through and kind of give some highlights from my perspective as you go through and look at the group. Had a really strong amount of talent that we are graduating on defense. So we had to really address that side of the football. Up front, really excited about the young men that we added, James Head, Shamar Jones, Gavin McCabe, and Madison Norris on the defensive line.
Madison Norris being an instate athlete from Hamilton Southeastern High School, an elite track athlete. I predict he will possibly win the state 100-meter high hurdles this year and probably would have last year but got a late injury in the tournament and wasn't able to do that. But really, really fast, long athlete that has a great family and is excited to be a part of us. I'm really excited about him being an instate guy.
And James Head from the state of Florida is a guy we really spent a lot of time investing into and allowed him to come up here and realize his dream.
Also graduated some linebackers, so excited to add Aaron Casey, Cam Jones, and Micah McFadden to our team. Guys with athleticism, a couple of guys there -- actually, all three of them from the South and guys that we really believe in.
At safety, Jordan Jusevitch, a young man that was a finalist for Mr. Football. He was our first, I guess you could say, verbal commit, as they call it, a year ago about this time. Had him in camp and loved him and just a really good football player. Plays all different kind of positions on his high school football team, led them to the state championship game, and he's a young man that I believe is going to develop and really be a special player and person for us.
Devon, AKA Monster. He goes by Monster, which is his nickname. Mom even calls him that, which is sometimes unusual for a nickname. A great football player there that I think has a tremendous ceiling. Devon Matthews is his name. Noah Pierre as well from the state of Florida, guys that athletically give us a pop and a burst that we're looking for back there.
Cornerbacks, Elijah Rodgers and Jaylin Williams are quality, quality young men. Jaylin is a tremendously gifted player with high class speed, can play both sides of the ball, but he's going to play corner. Same with Elijah. He was a high school cornerback, and he's going to play corner.
Athletically, we've got two guys in that category, Reese Taylor and Stevie Scott. We all know who Reese Taylor is in this part of the country, Mr. Football, led the Ben Davis Giants to an undefeated season and state championship, nationally ranked program. I feel like he is just an elite athlete. Really see that he will be a young man that has a lot of versatility, quarterback skills, receiver skills, DB skills, return skills, all those kinds of things. Extremely quick and fast. As we've said, the character piece is what I care a lot about, and he's a really, really fine young man with strong grades.
Stevie Scott, big young man, 6'2", 235 pounds, can play running back, plays linebacker, and we'll be fighting for him on both sides of the ball. We're glad he's on our team. Gives us tremendous special teams value as well.
Kicker Charles Campbell, I want to highlight him. All-American from the state of Tennessee. Big need for us, but he's going to have to come and compete. I told him that from the very beginning. We've got quality kickers here on campus that want the same job that he wants. He's a guy that we went out and got out of high school, and he'll be kicking in the U.S. Army All-American game. Really excited about his skill set that he brings to our program.
O-line wise, we had a young O-line issue. Didn't have any seniors, but we were able to add a couple to that group. We didn't have a lot of numbers. So we went ahead and added Nick Marozas and Aidan Rafferty. Nick from Illinois, Aidan from the D.C. area. So long athletes that are going to develop, really, really tough guys that I think are going to be really good players for us as they come in our program and work extremely hard.
Tight end, big need for us, Matt Bjorson and T.J. Ivy. We had to address losing a couple there to graduation. So excited about their toughness and athleticism. Matt is very versatile. T.J. is a long athlete that I think is really going to develop into a fine player.
Running back, really strong need for us in terms of the burst and speed we're looking for. Ronnie Walker, very excited about him, going to be a midyear guy, as well as Jacolby Hewitt, Mike Penix, and James Head. All four of those guys will be midyear enrollees, which is huge for them to be able to get here and start with us in early January. Ronnie led his team to a state championship this past couple weeks ago, and really, I think, a tremendously talented player, strong, fast, great balance, great vision, and really used to running our system.
Receiver Jacolby Hewitt, Miles Marshall. Jacolby is tremendously fast, also good size to him, thick, and Miles has got length, 6'4" receiver, caught a ton of balls there in a very, very good league coming out of the Atlanta area in Parkview High School in Georgia.
And then Mike Penix, quarterback, the most recent commitment here, signee that joined us here in his announcement about 1:00 this afternoon. Tremendously excited about him. 6'2", 6'3" range, 200 pounds. Love his length and athleticism. He's listed as a pro style quarterback on paper, but that's not what he is. He's a dual guy. Really, really gifted athlete. Really good basketball player, could run and jump extremely well and has those qualities. He's going to come here and compete, and he'll be a midyear guy, as I mentioned. Excited about his leadership and character. Really stuck out to me in this process. Our staff knew him before because of prior relationships and other places we've been. So really excited about him and what he brings to our crew.
So we have 23 members of the class at this point. It will grow as we move forward, but really excited about these young men and what they bring to our program. Do you have any questions?
Q. With the early signing period, now going through it, what are your initial thoughts about it?
TOM ALLEN: Well, now that it's over, it's great because now you have these guys already locked in and you don't have spend the Christmas season focusing on these 23 guys. Now you can focus on the last few that you have available, and you'll know what's out there, and you'll be able to focus on them.
What it created, though, up to that point was three weeks of really, really intense time to be able to squeeze what you normally do in about twice as long a period into that short of time at the end with official visits and getting guys on campus and you trying to -- the head coach gets one visit to each young man during the contact period. To get to all those guys in their homes, it's hard to do in that sort of window. And then also, you don't know exactly what you're going to have available, just based on some things that happened numbers-wise. You don't always know those numbers to a tee this early on.
So it creates some challenges for sure, but just like anything else, you adapt and move on. Once you get through it, it feels good to be able to have these guys locked in.
Q. These guys, in particular, it felt like a lot of guys were here for a while, spring, summer commits, maybe early fall. How important was it to get your work done early in terms of identifying guys quickly and getting them in the fold quickly because you were dealing with a shorter timeline? And is that the idea going forward?
TOM ALLEN: We knew the new rule when it was out. Weren't really sure how it was going to play out, what it was going to be totally once it's lived out. I felt like it was critical to get guys on campus. We made a big emphasis on that over the summer and past spring and get to know our athletes and recruits as best we can. So get them exposed to our place as soon as possible because we knew we were going to be pressed.
You didn't know which kids or how they were going to approach. We -- I know, as a college coach, we weren't sure do they want to sign early, or do they want to wait? And no one really knew. So we kind of just started going through it. We had to have the mindset, let's speed the process up, let's get to know these guys faster, let's get as many on board as we could, and we decided how it's going to play out.
I think that the relationships that were built, they were strong. You get a lot of people coming in at the end trying to sway guys. The thing that people were trying to do in this structure is get you just not to sign, so just to be able to give them more time to keep recruiting guys that we wanted. So the guys that were committed to us, they stayed true, and they committed, and they signed with us today after they had committed. So really encouraged by that, that we were able to hold on to everyone we wanted and felt really good about that process.
Q. Coach, can you talk about offensively, your offensive staff was really only together eight or nine months up to the signing point. At that time, you're getting lapped by the other teams because you're so far behind as far as identifying guys. The job they did, Coach Sheridan getting Michael Penix, Coach Hart getting Ronnie Walker and all the other guys just to catch up to programs you were already behind.
TOM ALLEN: We did. That's just part of staff changes, especially when we had that many new guys on offense a year ago. But we staff recruit. So I'm a very aggressive head coach in recruiting and talking to players consistently the entire year, whether it's via text or via phone calls themselves, and we have nights each week and get myself very involved. It's hard during the season because you're game planning, you're scheming, you're working on watching film, and yet we have to carve out time for that, and I know it's extremely important.
So we did that, and it takes a lot of energy. These guys, they worked extremely hard. Very proud of our staff for all the -- it takes a long time to develop meaningful relationships because we want to get to know these guys. We're trying to be as accurate as we can in our evaluation. There's guys along the process where we thought we were going to take them, and you get to know them more and more and more, and you find out maybe this isn't the best fit for us.
I think they did a tremendous job of doing all that leg work. It takes effort to get guys on the phone and stay in touch with them, especially when you're coaching during the season, but that's what our guys did, and I think it led to our guys coming together. We kind of had a plan. Matt Wilson is our head of recruiting and did a tremendous job of organizing the recruiting efforts, and that's a lot of different layers to that. All the support staff we have. We added an on staff recruiting position with Kasey Teegardin, who's in charge of that and heads that up.
Just to be able to handle the new signing, early sign, which we knew is going to create more in season visits, more December visits officially, and that takes a lot of manpower. All that coming together kind of resulted in today's outcome.
Q. With Reese Taylor, what kind of goes into evaluating where he fits, both the short term, long term. What kind of things are you going to be looking for when he gets here?
TOM ALLEN: I think that he always was a guy that I had my eye on, just because of knowing him there from Ben Davis and my ties there. Just saw him as an athlete that had the ball in his hand in high school. You saw his growth as a young quarterback. Each year he got a little bit bigger, a little stronger and better, threw the ball better every single year. Definitely this season, elevated his game again.
I think after the fourth game -- we just kept watching game after game -- he was obviously already committed to us. But you start watching the games as they unfold, and this guy is really a talented quarterback, you know, and he's making plays with his legs, with his arms, with his brain, and decision making and the ability to create. So you just say, hey, this guy is a special talent with the ball in his hands.
So how that kind of plays out, I think he's got to evaluate. You get him here in the summer, and he'll start to work with us, and we'll start that evaluation process of where he fits in best. I think he kind of has in his mind what he thinks he wants to do, and I know that entails with me just to be able to have a package offensively and then kind of see where that grows from.
I've had guys tell me, hey, this guy is a slot receiver that I have a lot of respect for, and he really wants to be a corner and a return guy and have that package on offense. You never know. He may end up being a quarterback. I don't know. I really don't. I'm being very transparent with you, and that's how I've talked to him. He's a very, very talented football player. He's tough, and he's quick, and he's really, really fast. I'm glad he's an Indiana Hoosier. We'll figure out where he plays as we go forward.
He's just everything I love about a young man -- cares about school, strong student, high character, hard, hard worker. I know so many people there so well that they're going to be honest with you, we know exactly what we're getting with him, and I think he's a special talent.
Q. Coach, you're bringing in a lot of speed, obviously, on the defensive side of the ball where you're going to be losing some key starters to graduation after this season. I guess just what do you feel like they can bring in terms of bringing competition and depth and that sort of thing to that side of ball?
TOM ALLEN: Well, speed was an emphasis for sure when I went through and charge with our coaches and really just said we've got to get faster. To me, if you want speed, you've got to recruit speed. There's no question you can develop and get faster, but you have to have fast guys out of high school, and those guys can be developed from there. So that, to me, was a real priority.
It's not by accident that we got really a bunch of DBs that run really, really well, got some linebackers that run really well, got some defensive ends that run well. That, to me, is a speed game. The ball is out in space a lot, and we've got to be able to close. It also helps on special teams. To me, that's a big key.
We've got a bunch of guys here that I think are going to give us special teams value. It doesn't take a lot of experience rep-wise to get that. That's where you get a young guy a chance to get him involved early and allows him to grow and develop. Those that develop faster schematically for the offensive and defensive scheme, they'll see more playing time in that area.
You always have surprises. I think Morgan Ellison is a prime example this year. None of us probably would have predicted he would have that good of a season based off when we took him out of high school. There are going to be guys on this list that are going to surprise us. I think we'll play at a much higher level sooner than maybe anybody would expect. Maybe some guys you think are supposed don't develop quite as quickly. It always seems to balance itself out, but we have high expectations for this class, especially with the numbers we're losing on defense, and I think we sold that to these guys.
That's the truth. I said, I'm not ever going to promise you that you will come here and start, but I will promise you the opportunity to come here and compete to play. They believed us on that, and it's true.
Q. It's cliche, but Michael Penix is a quarterback with, obviously, it seems like some really good stats, a really impressive offer list, and he's enrolling early. Just what do you think he can bring immediately? And do you envision him being a guy that at least can get in the mix in the competition?
TOM ALLEN: Absolutely. Our quarterbacks on campus, they know that, and I will tell them, and I'll tell even the guys that are here a year from now, we're going to always recruit your position. We'll probably always at least recruit one quarterback every single class. I can't imagine not doing that. So you'd better understand that you're competing in the Big Ten.
So he came here to compete, to play, and the guys on campus right now, they want to play as well. So competition makes you better, and so we believe that we're bringing in the guy midyear that came here to compete for an opportunity to play in the fall. It's on him to see what he does with it. But I know that that's his expectation, and I know the guys that are on campus here, it's their expectation to be the man as well. So that iron-sharpening-iron mentality and structure is what makes us special.
So we've got increased numbers, got to keep growing those at all positions so we can compete, compete, compete.
Q. Coach, in the state breakdown, the ones that I noticed you didn't get anybody from was Ohio. Is that just kind of how things shook out this class?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, definitely not by design. We recruited some guys from Ohio and offered them and tried to get on them, and we had a few more from Illinois than we've had in the past. I just think it's kind of cyclical in that regard. It wasn't necessarily by -- we love to get those surrounding states and hit them hard, and we're going to do the same thing again next year.
Q. Coach, what's the conversation like with a student-athlete and their family to have them come in midyear? Is that a hard sell?
TOM ALLEN: We don't really sell that. I experienced it as a parent with my son a year ago. So I've learned that you don't push that on somebody. They have to really want to do it. There's no question, there's pros and cons to everything. I've seen it work really, really well, and I've seen it backfire where a young man probably wasn't ready. You have to be emotionally ready for that, physically ready for the challenge, and I know from experience it's a lot harder than people think.
And I think it has -- it kind of sounds cool at first. Have him go early and get in spring ball. But you've got to go from high school classroom to a college classroom, and I guarantee that professor doesn't really care that you just got out of high school. You've got to perform at the level of a college student at that point.
So I just think there's a lot thrown on them, but I'll tell you what, what happens is, when you get here, the academic benefit once they kind of survive that adjustment and then the football piece where you get to have 15 practices of spring ball, learning the system, getting those reps, it's a tremendous payoff.
But I don't pressure people. I tell them all the facts, tell them the pros, tell them the cons of it, and let them make the decision. Those that want to do it, we embrace it. Those that don't, we don't say this is something you need to do.
Q. I know you were enamored of last year's freshman class, the 2017 class. How does this class fit with that in terms of positions?
TOM ALLEN: It's similar in regards to good balance. I like the way we've addressed it. It's not like it's loaded in one area. We'll still be adding some more guys. But I thought last year's class was very balanced. I think this class adds more speed, not quite the size at certain spots, but we addressed it. Last year we felt we needed to get bigger. This year we wanted to get faster.
So really, I'll tell you, these two classes back to back, and you've got the ability to have -- when I look at both classes together, you add them up, and you've got about 50 guys that are going to be new in these two classes to add to our football team. So of the 85 on scholarship, you're going to have 50 of them that are in the last two classes. So that's a big chunk of our team.
So that tells me that this off-season is going to be critically important for our future. The way we work this spring, the midyear guys are going to be joining us, and when the rest of the class comes for June, their development for June and July leading up to fall camp is going to be a huge, huge priority for our staff, and that includes everybody on our staff, all phases, to get them developed and maximize everything that we have because we do have, I believe, two really, really strong groups back to back. This will be a little bit bigger. It's got more speed, addresses similar positions, but I just feel like it's an upgrade in a lot of just raw talent on the field.
That thing about signing, I think every head coach is excited. You don't meet too many guys that aren't. But what do these young men develop into? That's the question. What do these guys look like two years from now, three years from now? You've got to go back. Nobody really knows that right now. You get fired up about rankings and all that. This is a great class in that regard. I still don't focus on that. Didn't focus on it last year. Don't focus on it this year. It's what do these guys become? It's our job to project what they're going to become. And I think it's our job to help them develop into elite Big Ten athletes that will help us win a championship, and that's the goal.
Q. What do you envision from -- I mean, potentially, can you sign -- how many more kids can you sign based on the numbers, how they structure out, that kind of thing?
TOM ALLEN: There's some variables involved in that. Attrition, you flow through. As guys go and make decisions about staying in school or leaving for the NFL or guys decide that, hey, I want to be able to go, and I may not see myself getting to play like I want to here. I maybe want to transfer. Things happen. That's part of it. We won't know that for sure. I can see possibly growing three or four more guys in this class. It's a realistic possibility. Not much more than that.
You're limited by the numbers that you have. We don't know that exact number yet for sure, but I can see, my projection would be three or four more guys to add to this list. You have a window to work with, and you can't go beyond that.
Q. I know it's kind of still a couple more weeks away, but do you have an idea that you want to do with that tenth assistant spot? Would it be a full assistant? Would it be maybe somebody who deals with recruiting? Do you kind of know yet what you want to do with it?
TOM ALLEN: You kind of, when this all was voted in and we knew -- last year we thought it might happen at that point, and they decided to delay it until this coming January. You had some time to kind of talk. I talked to a lot of coaches about their philosophy. What do you think you want to do with that position? What do you think is best? This is what I ended on, kind of summary for me. I want to find the best football coach that fits with us and will allow us to be the best recruiting and the best developmental staff in the country.
So that's what I decided to do, not try and say, hey, I've got to have this position or this guy. Let's find the best person, the best coach out there that fits with us and our philosophy and is going to help us become the highest effective recruiting staff and developmental staff in the country.
We're close to getting that finalized. Everything has not -- hasn't been hired officially yet, but that process is closing in. So we will be announcing that here probably in the next few weeks. But very excited about the options that we have for that position. To me, it gives us a great chance to allow us to just be more effective. You've got one more guy that can go out and recruit, one more guy that can teach and instruct on the field, and one more guy that can help us impact the lives of these young men.
Q. Kind of off of that, do you know what that role is going to be? Is it going to be -- I know I kind of asked that, but is it going to be special teams coordinator, or are you still kind of looking at that?
TOM ALLEN: I will say it will affect that position, whether or not that person is that guy. But I believe you have to have somebody that owns special teams, and that's what will happen. Whether that's the D person coming in or somebody we move to that role. I just know that you've heard me say many, many times how important special teams are. They're huge. We saw that again this year. Even our special teams play, I thought, was vastly improved overall. We still failed in some areas at some key times that cost us dramatically.
So that will continue to be a focus, and I know that needs to be something we will address in the tenth position.
Q. Coach, in terms of your own role, head coach, also defensive coordinator this year. Do you see that changing now you've been through it for a year? Do you have any thoughts how you're going to continue forward?
TOM ALLEN: I do, and I plan to stay as defensive coordinator for this coming season. But I do feel like that, as we add that tenth person, that will be someone that will help me to be able to continue to spread the workload. Also, we've got coaches here that have been with me for a couple years now. Their roles will continue to increase as we work together more and more.
So I think you're going to see that type of emphasis with the person we add as well as special teams, the combination of those two.
Q. You mentioned the other schools trying to cherry-pick and poach guys going into February. Did you see less of that? And do you think going forward it will just get moved up? Or do you think the early signing date will help reduce some of that kind of poaching?
TOM ALLEN: I think it's supposed to kind of help that. That's one of the intents, I think. At the same time, it still happens. They tried with our guys. I think the reason why they weren't as effective this year is because of the relationships that were built. When you have strong ties with the family, then those attempts are much less effective.
As a matter of fact, I remember I sent a text out. I said, the poachers are out in full force. This was about a week and a half ago with our guys. But you've got to stay on your guys and everybody, those that you know that have the ear of our recruits, that you stay with them as well. So we had to fight to the end on that.
That's probably not going to change. Sometimes in the past our program has been one where they viewed they could come in and have a chance to take some of those, but it was fruitless this year because of the relationships that we had. And that's where year round recruiting, the full staff recruiting, these families feel so tied in with us, so locked in with us that they weren't going to be pried away at the last minute.
Q. How much do you think the completion of the Circle of Excellence is going to help you in the future in terms of what you can show student-athletes coming here?
TOM ALLEN: There's no question. I sit in my office and have a great view of that facility. Just talking about what that's going to look like and them to be able to have access to it, and a year from now they'll be in it. That class will be using it. It will open up this summer. So just another way for us to continue to show our growth and investment in the program. I know also just when that is completed, then the focus will go on the new locker room area that's going to be done and the new training room and the new players lounge and all that, that our players will have a great impact being a part of and benefitting from. The more that happens, the better it is.
I tell guys it's the people that make a place special. That is never going to be anything that I'm not going to say, but having better facilities helps. The people are what makes it special, but getting the facilities upgraded and having that there to show them, to me, it just shows investment. It shows the importance of our sport to Indiana University, the importance to the alumni investing in it and our administration investing in it, and that's what we sell to our parents that we're trying to recruit and to our players.
So even just this room right here, just doing some things here to continue to grow it and to invest in it and to make it as nice as we possibly can to be able to show, as student-athletes go from place to place, they see, hey, this place is -- and we still, I know we have great plans for the near future. We consistently get the replies that they're just so impressed with how nice everything is here because they just really didn't expect it for whatever reason. And the perception, if they come from far away, that football here is way more important and is much more invested in it than they thought.
So I think this is just going to add to it when they come and see a finished product across the south end zone and Excellence Academy and the new locker room and the team room being revamped and all those kinds of things. So that's a big part of our future.
Q. Coach, you mentioned three or four more spots. Do you think those will all be recruited, or do you think it will be open to -- I know it's hard now, but maybe a grad transfer. You mentioned how young they are. Maybe getting a couple of older guys you can plug in at certain spots.
TOM ALLEN: I think what you do is you go through and you evaluate, after you go through the spring, and you kind of see -- you kind of know on paper you might be a little bit young and inexperienced, and you see how the spring plays out. Then you like to maybe save a spot or two for that. I think that's wise. I'd like to be able to do that. And then you see it's kind of becoming more of a popular thing for seniors to do when they graduate.
So I think, yeah, that's something we will definitely explore, and there's certain positions that we're already having those conversations about if the need arises.
Thank you. Have a great day.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports