National Signing Day, Feb. 2022: Eastern Illinois Panthers

Among new head coach Chris Wilkerson’s first EIU recruiting class, nine of the 12 players have previously played at a four-year school, junior college or prep school. (Photo by

By Barry Bottino

New Eastern Illinois head football coach Chris Wilkerson brought nine seasons of previous head coaching experience to Charleston when he was hired last month to replace Adam Cushing.

His first abbreviated signing class offers plenty of experience as well.

Among the 12-member signing class, nine have previously played at a four-year university, junior college or prep school.

Bolingbrook native Alex Parades Jr. is on his fourth school, having started his college career at fellow Ohio Valley Conference member Southeast Missouri before transferring to Independence Community College then FBS Oklahoma.

The class signed Wednesday was put together despite Wilkerson only being on the job since Jan. 26.


“We are fired up to have a great group of guys coming in here ready to make a difference. They’re going to solidify our foundation and compliment our roster tremendously.” – Chris Wilkerson, EIU head coach

What positions do they play?

Four wide receivers make up the largest part of the EIU class, along with three defensive linemen and two quarterbacks.

Where are they from?

The 12-member class hails from nine different states, led by four Illinois natives. The class stretches from Florida on the east coast to Washington in the Pacific Northwest. The Panthers also nabbed a player from a recent hotbed for EIU – Ohio.

What accomplishments do they bring?

At Steel Valley High School in Pennsylvania, Nijhay Burt was his conference’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and earned all-state as a running back after rushing for more than 2,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. … Defensive lineman Tre’Jon Lewis played the past three years at FBS Texas Tech. … In the NJCAA Division III national title game last fall, WR Lazerick Eatman returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in COD’s victory. … As a sophomore at Dodge City Community College in Kansas, Trey Wilhoit led the nation in punting with a 43.3-yard average per kick during the fall. He had five punts over 60 yards.

Full February recruit list (courtesy of

Name, Position, Height, Weight, Year, Previous School, Hometown

Tim Pope, WR, 6-2, 195, Fr., Withrow HS, Cincinnati

Justin Bowick, WR, 6-5, 185, Fr., Pace Academy, Powder Springs, Ga.

Nijhay Burt, RB/DB, 5-11, 165, Fr., Steel Valley HS, Munhall, Pa.

Jonah O’Brien, QB, 6-4, 210, R-Soph., Colorado State University, Bartlett, Ill.

Jordyn “Jet” Turner, WR, 6-5, 195, R-Fr., Weber State University, Bothell, Wash.

Alex Parades Jr., OL, 6-4, 315, Jr., University of Oklahoma, Bolingbrook, Ill.

Colby Smith, DL, 6-0, 280, Soph., Dodge City Community College, Dunnellon, Fla.

Tre’Jon Lewis, DL, 6-4, 270, R-Soph., Texas Tech University, Manor, Tex.

Lazerick Eatman, WR, 5-9, 175, R-Jr., College of DuPage, Willowbrook, Ill.

Kevin Conway, QB, 6-2, 195, Fr., Diamond Football Academy, New Lenox, Ill.

Trey Wilhoit, P, 5-10, 165, Soph., Dodge City Community College, Tallahassee, Fla.

Elijah Elmore, DL, 6-2, 300, Soph., Iowa Western Community College, Prattville, Ala.

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