Eastern Illinois added 16 players to its roster with the December signing dates. (Photo by EIUPanthers.com)
By Barry Bottino & Dan Verdun
Eastern Illinois leaned heavily toward offensive linemen and defensive backfield personnel as the early period for national letters of intent were signed Wednesday.
EIU announced the addition of 16 players to its roster, nine on offense and seven on defense. The Panthers added five offensive linemen, two receivers, two cornerbacks, two safeties, two “athletes” and one quarterback, defensive lineman and linebacker.
“Our coaching staff did a phenomenal job, not only targeting people that would not only address our needs athletically from a size, speed, strength and length standpoint, but kids that are going to be great additions to Eastern Illinois University,” head coach Chris Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson, an EIU graduate beginning his second season leading the Panther program, also said that receiver Justin Thomas will return next fall.
Thomas transferred to Eastern last season from Division III Albion (Mich.) College. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder had an immediate impact, ranking among Ohio Valley Conference leaders in receptions and receiving yards through the opening four games. However, an injury brought his season to an abrupt end.
Thomas’s injury was one of many that severely hampered EIU’s offense. As a result, receiver was one position group that the Panther staff addressed.
“We were looking for guys that had productivity, whether that was a volume of catches or targets or guys that, when they did possess the football, were a threat to go the distance,” Wilkerson said.
Incoming freshman Jordan Woods (Hammond, Ind. Central High School) and junior college transfer Eli Mirza (Sierra College) were such players.
“He comes from a program where he was asked to do a lot of different things,” Wilkerson said of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Woods. “But every time he touched the football, good things happened.”
Mirza, listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, was a highly decorated receiver in the California junior college circuit. He hauled in 74 receptions for 929 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022.
Wilkerson said, “It was really important for us to add some more length, athleticism and certainly productivity to the wide receiver room.”
Wilkerson, a former Panther defensive lineman, knows the importance of strong lines on both sides of the ball. Thus, EIU has brought in more size.
“We definitely wanted to try to get bigger and longer,” Wilkerson said. “With the guys we’ve brought in to play offensive line, we’re expecting to play (right away).”
The junior college ranks have also provided EIU with a pair of experienced cornerbacks.
“They will have a chance to compete right away,” Wilkerson said of JUCO products Marcus Edwards and Tienne Fridge, both of whom will participate in winter training and spring practice.
The Panthers also signed two prep safeties: Akin Adigun, listed at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, and Makhi Wilson, 6-foot and 185 pounds.
“Akin is a dynamic playmaker from the Lone Star State,” assistant coach Clay Bignell said in a release. “He is a tremendous athlete with a rare combination of length
“Makhi is the complete package. He’s been a playmaker on both sides of the ball and a star on the track at Pleasant Valley (Iowa) High School. He has all the physical traits we are looking for at safety, and he can be a difference-maker for us.”
Biggest need filled on offense: line & receiver
Biggest need filled on defense: cornerback
Where they come from by level: The class breaks down into nine high school recruits and seven via junior college transfers.
Where they come from by state: Illinois (4); Texas (3); California (2); Iowa (2); Mississippi (2); Georgia (1); Indiana (1); Michigan (1).
Player closest to campus: DL Peyton Wilkerson, who prepped at Lincoln-Way Central High School, is Chris and Sharna Wilkerson’s son.
Player farthest from campus: CB Tienne Fridge, Sacramento, Calif. (2,053 miles)
Tallest: OL Matthew Allen, 6-foot-9
Shortest: CB Marcus Edwards & WR Eli Mirza, both 5-foot-11
Heaviest: OL Noah Howard, 340 pounds
Lightest: S Akin Adigan, 175 pounds
Early Signing Day List
Full Name, Position(s), Height, Weight, Hometown, School
High School signees
Akin Adigun (S, 6-2, 175, Little Elm, Texas/Lone Star HS)
Matthew Allen (OL, 6-9, 265, Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais HS)
Nic DiSanto (OL, 6-4, 310, Wyandotte, Mich./Gabriel Richard HS)
Blainey Dowling (QB, 6-2, 185, Chicago, Ill./Chicago Mount Carmel HS)
Panayiotis Mihalopoulos (OL, 6-2, 310, Chicago, Ill./Loyola Academy)
Isaiah Richardson (Athlete, 6-5, 195, Suwanee, Ga./Collins Hill HS)
Peyton Wilkerson (DL, 6-1, 215, Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way Central HS)
Makhi Wilson (S, 6-0, 185, Bettendorf, Iowa/Pleasant Valley HS)
Jordan “Jroy” Woods (WR, 6-2, 180, Hammond, Ind./Hammond Central HS)
Marcus Edwards (CB, 5-11, 180, Bay City, Texas/Bay City HS/Cisco College)
Tienne Fridge (CB, 6-2, 200, Sacramento, Calif./Elk Grove HS/Sacramento City College)
Terrance Gipson (Athlete, 6-0, 185, Kingwood, Texas/Westfield HS/East Los Angeles College)
Noah Howard (OL, 6-4, 340, Clinton, Iowa/Clinton HS/Iowa Central College
Jatarian “JJ” Hudson (LB, 6-1, 220, Philadelphia, Miss./Philadelphia HS/East Mississippi CC)
Eli Mirza (WR, 5-11, 190, Carmichael, Calif./Monterey Trail HS/Sierra College)
Torris Robinson (OL, 6-5, 325, Olive Branch, Miss./Southhaven HS/Coahoma CC)
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