IU football: Things never look better than on signing day

Tom Allen spoke glowingly about his new guys, what nice fellows they are, what outstanding young men, and oh, how they came from great families, too.

The 25 newcomers to Indiana’s football team had their character, accomplishments and potential praised in an Allen review on National Signing Day earlier this week, and really, if you are going to be gushed over at any time, this was the moment.

Of course, that was all nice to hear, but to fans listening, they had a different criteria on their minds. Can they play?

After the recently concluded 2-10 season, going winless in the Big Ten and plummeting from a high of being nationally ranked to a low of being barely detectable with a Geiger counter, Hoosiers want an instant solution.

In a new twist to recruiting, what was always a process that involved seeking out and signing high school stars for Division I football, the recent changes in NCAA transfer rules mean coaching staffs must scout the list of players dissatisfied with where they were who wish to flee to somewhere else.

Coaches used to recruit freshmen. Now, they also recruit graduate students whom may have played out almost complete careers.

Not so long ago football fans did not know the words “transfer portal.” Now there are even soft drink commercials on televised games that play on the words, so coaches better understand them.

Also, as a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects in 2020, many players received a bonus year of eligibility. That made for a crazy marketplace, and the makeup of IU’s class is both fascinating and encouraging.

Injuries and inexperience defined the Indiana quarterback situation this season. Starter Michael Penix Jr. got hurt for the third season in a row and has decided to transfer. Backup Jack Tuttle also got hurt, but as of early this week, Tuttle planned to return. Donaven McCulley and Grant Gremel were rushed into starting roles on given Saturdays.

Still not one of the fresh faces Allen discussed was a quarterback. This does mean the same trio has possession of the job.

“Bottom line is we plan to sign a transfer quarterback as well as a high school quarterback,” he said. “That is the plan.”

Hey, Aaron Rodgers, annoyed with Green Bay management? Come to Bloomington for a year. Oops, out of eligibility. We’ll talk to anyone who has some on the books.

Examining the list of recruits, the Hoosiers went hard after running backs, a logical move since over the last year-plus, Stevie Scott, Tim Baldwin and Stephen Carr have departed.

In addition to Josh Henderson from the University of North Carolina and Shaun Shivers out of Auburn, IU signed freshmen Gi’Bryan Payne from Cincinnati and Jaylin Lucas from Louisiana.

Of all players mentioned, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Lucas received the most raves. Allen made it sound as if he could be the second coming of the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor.

“Jaylin is dynamic,” Allen said. “That’s the best thing I can say to describe Jaylin. Talk about a guy that makes plays in space. He’s extremely quick and fast, so he’s got short-speed quickness and long speed.”

IU was shopping for receivers and defenders and also came up with some players related to Hoosier-connected faces. Dasan McCullough, son of assistant coach Deland McCullough, projects as a linebacker. Cornerback Trevell Mullen is the younger brother of accomplished Hoosier secondary player Tiawan.

Hoosier coaches definitely went on the prowl for prime grade beef for the trenches, big guys now and who may gain strength weight. Patrick Lucas, 6-3, 320, is transferring from Mississippi. So is LeDarrius Cox, 6-4, 315. JH Tevis, 6-4, 285, is coming from the University of California.

Freshmen big dudes include Nick James, 6-2, 295 from Florida, Carter Smith, 6-5, 280, from Ohio, and DJ Moore, 6-5, 315, from Fort Wayne.

There was a time when Indiana, as a state flagship school, found many players in-state. This year’s list is intriguing, in part, because of how many players are from far, far away, including also Texas, Alabama, Arkansas and New Jersey.

Allen will still take a quarterback from Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico.