- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kevin Wilson hopes his rebuilding project at Indiana just took its next step forward on signing day.
The Hoosiers brought in one of their better classes in recent years, according to the rankings services. It included ESPN 150 athlete Rashard Fant and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Darius Latham. I recently spoke with Wilson, whose team went from 1-11 in 2011 to 4-8 last year, about the class:
Looks like you loaded up on defense. Was that the plan going in?
Kevin Wilson: You always want to get good players, but you also look at your needs. If you look at our offense, it isn't so bad. It's pretty average. We only lose one senior there. That being said, we need to make improvements on defense. We really only lost five seniors that played, and we only signed 22 kids but we have a lot of players coming back. You're not starting from scratch. We have 13 kids for sure on defense and then we have four of those tweener, hybrid kids who could be a running back or a linebacker or a safety or a receiver or a cornerback. There are three or four skill position guys where I could see them being on either side. So people look at it as 13 defensive players, but it could end being 14,15 or even 16 kids who are defensive players.
You signed three highly-rated kids from Indianapolis. How important was it to lock down the best kids in the state?
KW: If you want to be the state school, to me, you've got to represent the state. But just because they're from your state doesn't mean you're going to get them, and just because they're from your state doesn't mean you have to like them. They've got to be good players, and sometimes you don't get them all. It was good to get quality players and highly-rated kids, guys we think can make decent impacts. We don't need them to just sign with us. We need them to become good players.
They all come from quality programs. We do want to always have a presence within our state. The other comment about that, in all honesty, is that, we show up two years ago in December and had January to recruit. Last year, we get a full year, but this to me was the first year, with the way recruiting goes, where we got a full cycle. We saw them as 10th graders. We had them at camps. We had them at basketball games, had them on campus and went and watched them as juniors. We were able to build some relationships. I think the combination of that and folks thinking we're getting better helped. That's why I think some of the Indiana kids came our way.
It's hard not to notice that you signed four kids out of Georgia. How did you get that pipeline going?
KW: A couple of things. No. 1, we've got [defensive ends coach] Jon Fabris, who we hired from down there. He worked at the University of Georgia for nine years and knew his way around. He was able to go down there last spring and camp out there and go to spring practices and get us in there. It's a heck of a football state, with a big population. The next deal is, shooting down I-75, we're talking eight or nine hours to the metro Atlanta area. When you go outside of Indianapolis, our biggest alumni areas are Chicago, Atlanta and New York City because of the Kelley School of Business and all the alums we've got. So there's a little presence there. And I think the Big Ten Network helps when you go down south. When you go down to Florida, every home has the Big Ten Network, so that helps.
Rashard Fant is your top-rated prospect. Where do you see him fitting in?
KW: We see him as a cornerback and we need some help over there. But you look at his tape, and he's a great athlete -- great in the return game, really good as a slot receiver and they played him at Wildcat quarterback. Like a lot of guys we got, he can run. He needs to get a little bigger, a little stronger to compete at the Big Ten level, but he's a very athletic kid. We'll use him on returns starting out and defensively. But he has flexibility. When you evaluate his tape, you see him making plays with the ball in his hands. He's pretty skilled there. Same goes for some of our defensive backs like Antonio Allen. Chase Dutra is a running back hybrid; he could be a safety. Noel Padmore, guys like that.
How much do you think you strengthened your defensive front seven with this class?
KW: Again, we don't lose a lot. We only lose two D-tackles defensively. A lot of those guys are back and we need to make a bunch of strides there. We got two junior college D-tackles. Jordan Heiderman, he's already in school. Then you've got Chris Cormier. Our high school guys, Darius Latham and Maurice Swain, those are two 6-5, 6-6, 280-to-300 pound kids who can run. Patrick Dougherty is another inside guy. David Kenney is an edge guy. Steven Funderburk and T.J. Simmons are linebackers already in school and two really good athletes. Clyde Newton, he ran for the most yards of any running back we signed. Marcus Oliver was the conference player of the year in a big-time Ohio league.
So we've got four 'backers, six guys up front, and three of them are already in school. You'll see a lot of those guys in the two-deep mix right away. We signed a couple of fast guys. The big guys are a little bit more blessed athletically then we've recruited in years past. ... The really good teams, everybody has got a fast guy, whether it's a running back or a fast receiver or a defensive back. The best teams are fast with the big people. We didn't hit home runs or go off the charts like some people do. But for Indiana, the overall athleticism is pretty good.
You've thrown a lot of true freshmen into the fire the past couple of years. Are you to the point where you won't have to do that as much with these players, or do you expect plenty to play right away?
KW: It's a great question. Are we mature enough to take the entitlement out of, "Just because I'm a returning starter, this my job" versus just keep getting better? We've got a bunch of guys coming back, but they are a bunch of guys who were 4-8. And that's not the standard that were trying to establish or the culture we want to build. Just because you started, that's cool, but we're still not at the level we need to play at.
These recruits coming in, their skill set may be better than the guys in front of them. Now the guys in front of them are older, we've been coaching them and developing them and they might be farther along. But the starting points of some of these recruits are higher maybe than previous years with guys that play. So I believe in competition. I believe in the more we can get that environment going where you're fighting to get on the field, and we like to play multiple guys on offense and defense with as fast as we play.
When you don't play games, it can be a negative. Man, these kids make such a big commitment, in any program. It's year-round training. So, yeah, a guy might be better five years down the road, but sometimes you lose kids and they don't develop right if you don't get them on the field. You get one more year if you redshirt them, but once they play in that game I think the winter workouts, the summer workouts are a lot more positive. We haven't promised any of these guys that they'll play, but I bet you''ll see a bunch of them out there in the fall.