Recruiting sanctions placed on Missouri back in January that were upheld on Nov. 26 and the firing of fourth-year head coach Barry Odom were always going to be huge speed bumps on the Tigers’ road to securing their 2020 recruiting class.
While many commits stayed loyal to Missouri even after Odom’s dismissal, including Chaminade (Mo.) quarterback Brady Cook and Kirkwood (Mo.) receiver Jay Maclin, a number of others either reopened their recruitment or decommitted outright, including Booker T. Washington (Okla.) receiver JJ Hester — the Tigers’ highest-ranked commit — and Trinity Catholic (Mo.) offensive lineman Jalen St. John.
On Wednesday, though, new head coach Eli Drinkwitz landed formal signatures from 10 recruits to lock down part of his first class in Columbia on Day 1 of the early signing period. Recruits will still be able to sign through Friday or must wait until National Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2020.
Drinkwitz had a tall task ahead of him when he was officially announced as Missouri’s 33rd head coach Dec. 10. With just eight days in between his introductory press conference and the start of the early signing period, Drinkwitz and his staff immediately hit the road to sell his vision for the program on the team’s top targets — whether or not they were on the fence.
“I think recruiting is all about trying to build a relationship. It’s going to be a little bit like speed-dating right now,” Drinkwitz said last Tuesday. “We’re going to try to show them who we are as quickly as we can, but people fall in love with Mizzou. So I know that the guys that are currently committed to us, who are still committed, love Mizzou football. And all they need to do is see that I love Mizzou football as much as they do.”
This meant getting coaches in the homes or schools of commits as close as St. Louis (Cook) and as far as Knoxville, Tennessee (Elijah Young) and Stafford, Texas (Robert Wooten).
It also meant making the last-ditch effort to bring as many recruits as possible to Columbia last weekend. About a dozen returned to MU for one last official visit, with many of the players taking to social media to share their first experience with the Tigers’ new coach:
In all, Drinkwitz got letters of intent from the players whose decisions had become clear in recent days: Cook, Maclin, Hester, Young, Jaylon Carlies of West Orange (Fla.), Harrison Mevis of Warsaw (Ind.), Drake Heismeyer of Francis Howell (Mo.), Will Norris of Rock Bridge (Mo.), Tyler Jones of West Orange (Fla.) and Mitchell Walters of Mehlville (Mo.).
The early signing period hasn’t come without any defections, however.
Among them is former top-ranked Missouri commit Antonio Doyle, the Lutheran North (Mo.) linebacker who decommitted in August, committed to Texas A&M on Monday and signed Wednesday. Wooten tweeted his commitment to Virginia Tech on Monday and also made it official Wednesday.
Cooper Davis, a Viera (Fla.) defensive end, signed with Illinois. Jalen Logan-Redding, another Rock Bridge product who also decommitted following Odom’s firing, signed with Minnesota. White Station (Tenn.) offensive tackle Ray Curry flipped his commitment and signed with Arkansas.
And in the surprise twist of the day, Crowley (Texas) running back Dominique Johnson, who seemed to be a sure-fire signing for the Tigers, threw his Mizzou hat off his head and opened up his jacket to reveal a Razorbacks shirt during his signing ceremony.
For a coach who had less than two weeks to assemble most of his staff and build a relationship with the program’s recruits, though, Drinkwitz did a commendable job.
Hester and Young both reopened their recruitments after Odom was fired, but Drinkwitz got them to stay. Losing the players who signed elsewhere hurts, since Missouri’s most successful seasons have largely been built on 3-star players or lower unexpectedly developing into stars, but 10 out of 17 is solid in comparison to other Southeastern Conference schools that fired their head coaches this offseason.
This shouldn’t be the end of Drinkwitz’s first class, either. St. John, for instance, could still be in the mix and has said he won’t sign until February, though Arkansas’ hiring of Odom and former offensive line coach Brad Davis has the Razorbacks firmly in the battle for St. John’s services.
The transfer, JUCO and late signee market will probably be used to fill out the rest of this class, and considering the lower number of scholarships available in 2020, it probably won’t get all that much bigger. But with 10 recruits signed, Drinkwitz did about as good a job as he could’ve to keep the original group together.