Early signing day ’22: Key returnee, WR class provide more weapons for SIU offense

Quarterback Nic Baker will have plenty of new faces to throw to next season for the Southern Illinois Salukis. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

By Barry Bottino

Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill unveiled a 23-player recruiting class Wednesday, including seven wide receivers, one athlete and a tight end.

The Salukis lost four of their top seven targets from last season and loaded up on pass catchers to help veteran quarterback Nic Baker in their early signing day class.

D’Ante Cox

In perhaps the biggest off-season win, Hill revealed that senior wide receiver D’Ante Cox, who tied for the team lead in receptions a year ago and was a dynamic weapon in the offense, will return in the fall for his seventh college season.

Cox lost two full seasons at SIU to knee injuries.

“Nic, as a sixth-year senior quarterback, obviously wants as many weapons as you can get,” Hill said. “I think we have a little bit of everything. We have some guys who can play on the outside, some guys that can play in the slot.”

SIU’s talent haul at the position includes FBS transfer athlete Zach Westmoreland from Eastern Michigan, productive juco receivers Cal Weidemann (Iowa Central) and Daelin DeGraffenreid (City College of San Francisco), along with four prep wideouts and a 6-foot-7 high school tight end.

Wide receiver Vinson Davis III, a transfer from FCS Charleston Southern University, could be a jack of all trades.

“He can do a little bit of everything,” Hill said. “You can hand him the ball. He played quarterback in high school, so he will do some of the stuff we did with Javon (Williams) like wildcat quarterback, return game. We hit on a lot of those areas.”

Running back Jaelin Benefield, one of three transfers who were all captains at Eastern Illinois last season, has the ability to be an all-purpose back.

“We’re fired up to put him in our offense,” Hill said. “He’s an explosive kid. He can be a true tailback, which is where we’ll play him. But he fits into everything we do as far as throwing him the football and bringing some explosiveness to our team.”

Benefield joins former EIU teammates Colin Bohanek, an All-Ohio Valley Conference linebacker last season with 200 career tackles, and defensive end Tim Varga in Carbondale.

“I think their leadership is pretty natural,” Hill said. “Those three guys are some of the most mature guys that we brought into the program. We were blown away by who they are as people, and how focused and mature they are. They’re going to make an impact on our team. They were voted team captains for a reason.”

Biggest need filled on offense: Wide receiver. The new faces will help SIU restock its roster.

Biggest need filled on defense: Defensive line. Five new players are among this group, including EIU’s Varga, a defensive end who played four years with the Panthers and earned second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors in 2021.

Where they come from by level: Thirteen players are from the high school ranks, while five are FCS transfers, three are from the juco level and two are FBS transfers.

Where they come from by state: 13 different states are represented in this class, with the most coming from Missouri (five) and Illinois (four). Players also hail from Texas, Florida, California, Indiana, Georgia, Iowa, Alabama, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kansas and Nebraska.

Player closest to campus: 75 miles.Preferred walk-on wide receiver Brodan Lewis should feel right at home as he has attended camps and 7-on-7 events at SIU throughout his career at Highland (Ill.) High School near St. Louis.

Player farthest from campus: 1,935 miles.Bakersfield, Calif., is where DeGraffenreid hails from, though he played the last two years at the City College of San Francisco.

Tallest: 6-7. Logan Minton, a tight end, caught 36 passes and seven TDs as a prep senior in Missouri to earn all-state honors.

Shortest: 5-7. Davis, who hails from Florida, was named second-team All-Big South as a redshirt freshman last season.

Heaviest: 325 pounds.A native of Carthage, Mo., juco offensive lineman Aiden Logan stands 6-6. He played right guard last season at Butler Community College in Texas.

Lightest: 165 pounds.Davis, the wide receiver, and prep cornerback Jamir Conn from Kansas City tie for this honor.

Early Signing Day List

Full Name, Position(s), Height, Weight, School, Hometown

Jaelin Benefield, RB, 5-10, 170, Eastern Illinois University, Pearland, Texas

Colin Bohanek, LB, 6-0, 225, Eastern Illinois University, Chicago

Jamir Conn, CB, 5-10, 165, Lee’s Summit North HS, Kansas City

Vinson Davis III, WR, 5-7, 165, Charleston Southern University, Miramar, Fla.

Daelin DeGraffenreid, WR, 6-2, 195, City College of San Francisco, Bakersfield, Calif.

Aidan Duerig, OT, 6-6, 315, Crown Point HS, Lowell, Ind.

Amir Dwight, DL,  6-1, 262, Crisp County HS, Cordele, Ga.

Noah Fenske, OL, 6-4, 295, University of Colorado, New Hampton, Iowa

Elijah Gunn, DT, 6-2, 284, Callaway HS, LaGrange, Ga.

Blaine Halley, OL, 6-6, 290, Olympia HS, Atlanta, Ill.

Brodan Lewis, WR, 5-11, 180, Highland HS, Highland, Ill.

Aiden Logan, OL, 6-6, 325, Butler Community College, Carthage, Mo.

Jamond Mathis, DE, 6-3, 235, Duchesne HS, Saint Charles, Mo.

Allen Middleton, WR, 5-11, 180, Mascoutah HS, Mascoutah, Ill.

Logan Minton, TE, 6-7, 215, Lafayette HS, Wildwood, Mo.

Carmelo Smith, DL, 6-2, 285, Prattville HS, Selma, Ala.

Ubayd Steed, S, 5-11, 180, Towson University, Philadelphia

Tim Varga, DE, 6-3, 250, Eastern Illinois University, Newton, N.C.

Kayleb Wagner, RB, 6-1, 215, Baker HS, Baker, Fla.

Miles Wash, LB, 5-10, 217, Derby HS, Wichita, Kan.

Cal Weidemann, WR, 6-1, 195, Iowa Central Community College, Omaha, Neb.

Zach Westmoreland, ATH, 6-2, 205, Eastern Michigan University, Joplin, Mo.

Kam White, WR, 6-0, 180, Huntsville HS, Huntsville, Ala.

2 responses to “Early signing day ’22: Key returnee, WR class provide more weapons for SIU offense”

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