Early signing day ’22: Unique visit from EIU linebacker pays off for Southern; in-state prep OT offers promise

Colin Bohanek had 200 career tackles at linebacker for Eastern Illinois before transferring this off-season to SIU. (Photo by EIUPanthers.com)

By Barry Bottino

When Colin Bohanek took his recruiting visit to Southern Illinois, he did so in a unique way.

The former Eastern Illinois linebacker chose to visit Carbondale with his father at midweek, without other prospective Salukis in town on a busy weekend.

“I wasn’t there with a whole lot of recruits, and I was able to get a lot more one-on-one time with coaches,” he said.

The quality time led to Bohanek enjoying his visit so much that he committed to head coach Nick Hill on the spot.

“It’s one of those feelings where I just knew,” Bohanek said. “I felt very comfortable. … I talked with my dad before I did it, and we were on the same page. I felt like to let (Coach Hill) know in person would be the best thing.”

Bohanek gives the Salukis (5-6 this season) a productive, experienced player to strengthen the middle of their defense.

Along with Bohanek, the Salukis signed 23 players last week on the December signing day, including a massive in-state tackle, and plenty of reinforcements among the wide receiver group.

Big man coming to campus

Veteran Illinois high school football recruiting analyst “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran had rave reviews for Blaine Halley, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive tackle that signed with SIU.

Blaine Halley

“You just don’t see a lot of kids with his length coming out of high school going to an FCS school,” O’Halloran said. “He’s got a chance to be a long-term starter for the Salukis.”

Halley said his punishing style is a good fit for the Salukis, just as it was at Olympia High School in Stanford, Ill., which is located about 20 miles west of Bloomington-Normal.

“(My strength) is definitely the run blocking aspect,” Halley said. “Olympia is well known for its triple option-offense. It’s ground-and-pound football. All of our games, we ran for over 300 yards.”

With little experience as a high school player in pass protection, Halley said he’s working weekly with his trainers on those skills.

Reinforcements up front

Along with Halley, the Salukis added another developmental tackle in 6-6, 315-pound Indiana prep athlete Aidan Duerig.

Two experienced players up front, juco guard/tackle Aiden Logan and FBS transfer Noah Fenske, will provide plenty of competition.

Logan, a versatile 6-6, 320-pound lineman, had strong interest from Northern Iowa, Illinois State, Murray State and Bryant.

“We really had to compete to get this kid,” Hill said.

Noah Fenske

The 6-5, 305-pound Fenske played in seven games at Colorado last season after starting his career at Iowa. A native of New Hampton, Iowa, Fenske can play guard or center.

“He has a chance to be a high-level football player in the Missouri Valley (Football Conference), which has had a history of a lot of high-level offensive linemen,” Hill said.

Leadership from up north

Along with Bohanek, a junior, Eastern Illinois transfers Jaelin Benefield (junior running back) and Tim Varga (senior defensive end) were all team captains for the Panthers.

“We had to grow up a little faster, in a sense, coming in young and having to step up,” Bohanek said. “We have some experience leading. We’re not afraid to come in and get to know our teammates fast and try to lead by example, gain respect from other players and lead by their side.

Bohanek had 200 career tackles during his time at EIU, starting 22 games in a row but posting a 4-24 record under two head coaches in the past three seasons.

“He’s going to be a big addition for us,” Hill said. “He’s tough. He’s reliable. He’s played a ton of football.”

Benefield had more than 1,500 all-purpose yards at Eastern, while Varga has 13.5 career tackles for loss and six sacks.

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