Football head coach Eliah Drinkwitz talks to reporters on National Signing Day

Missouri football head coach Eliah Drinkwitz talks to reporters on National Signing Day on Feb. 5 at Memorial Stadium. Drinkwitz is prioritizing recruiting in state, within a 450-mile radius and recruiting areas that have direct access to Columbia.

Missouri football’s recruiting efforts don’t have an identity.

Yet.

First-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz said June 17 it’s “what makes us have to become very matter-of-fact of where we recruit.”

As Drinkwitz explained it, that means prioritizing three elements:

  • Recruiting in-state
  • Recruiting within a 450-mile radius of Columbia
  • Recruiting areas that have direct access to Columbia, specifically through Columbia Regional Airport.

The three-pronged plan has spurred an impressive effort from Drinkwitz so far, especially considering the circumstances.

Despite an NCAA-imposed in-person recruiting dead period since mid-March, Missouri’s 2021 recruiting ranking sits at No. 21 in the country and No. 6 in the SEC as it has continued to add recruits. And the class isn’t necessarily out of gas.

“There’s still plenty of room for growth there in this recruiting class, so I don’t think it’s a situation where excitement should be tempered based on the early start,” Allen Trieu, who covers Midwest recruiting for 247Sports, said. “I think there’s still plenty of meat on the bone.”

In-state (and East St. Louis)

Drinkwitz’s hiring was a chance to “reset the table” in terms of recruiting efforts in St. Louis, Trieu said.

From 2016 through 2020, 247Sports listed 161 prospects from the greater St. Louis area. Missouri secured commitments from 14 of them, and only two had higher than a three-star ranking. Missouri also extended 49 offers to those St. Louis-area recruits during that five-year span; less than a third of the total number of players available.

“Having covered that area a lot and gone through there and known a lot of the high school coaches there and the recruits and the parents there, they’ve felt slighted by Mizzou a lot of the time,” Trieu said. “I think those kids and parents and high school coaches just didn’t feel like there was as much emphasis there as there is now. There is (now) a concerted effort to keep those kids at home.”

The Tigers have landed five 2021 recruits from St. Louis and they’re still building, as two of the biggest names to garner buzz lately play at East Saint Louis High School.

Dominic Lovett and Keontez Lewis, a receiver duo for the reigning Illinois 6A state champions, also have a notable tie to MU’s 2021 class. Their quarterback, Elite-11 finalist Tyler Macon, has committed to play for the Tigers.

Their head coach, Darren Sunkett, told St. Louis sports radio host Frank Cusamano on June 26 that Missouri is at the top of their lists and he’d “bet a milkshake” both end up in Columbia.

Based on rankings from 247Sports, Lovett is a four-star recruit with offers from SEC foes Alabama, LSU and Georgia, among others. Lewis is a three-star on 247 who has offers from South Carolina and Mississippi and others.

“If (Missouri) can keep one or both of those guys at home, I think it’s huge for the class in terms of their talent, but also perception in winning a battle like that for a local guy over some of those schools,” Trieu said.

Another notable in-state name to watch this month is across Interstate 70, at Lincoln College Prep Academy in Kansas City.

The Tigers could land defensive end Tobechi Okoli, who announced May 16 that Missouri is one of eight schools he’d be focusing on moving forward.

Landing Okoli would give Drinkwitz his fourth defensive line commitment of the class.

Trieu also said Okoli is “the one” in regards to remaining 2021 recruits in the Kansas City area, and that the Tigers should start looking to establish relationships with “very strong” 2022 and 2023 classes in the area.

Within a 450-mile radius

With Drinkwitz’s 450-mile radius encompassing nine Midwestern states, and five major Midwest cities beyond the in-state hubs of St. Louis and Kansas City, MU could become the Midwest’s SEC school.

“We’ve seen Kentucky kind of take advantage of that situation too, where kids who want to play in the SEC but don’t want to go all the way down to Baton Rouge or something, have a chance to ... do that,” Trieu said. “And so I think, with Mizzou, yeah, there’s reason to be excited because you’re always going to have that sell.”

Looking at recruits within that radius, two stand out, but the first is just south of the Show-Me State.

Dreyden Norwood — a four-star cornerback out of Fort Smith, Arkansas — is considering Missouri, but he’s also considering his home state Razorbacks, who are recruiting him with two former Missouri staffers; former defensive quality control analyst Sam Carter and former head coach Barry Odom.

Gabe Brooks, who covers recruiting in the “Midlands” region of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana for 247Sports, told the Missourian that much of the chatter surrounding Norwood in recent months has been Arkansas-oriented.

While pulling Norwood away from first-year Arkansas coach Sam Pittman may be a longshot, the Tigers landing him would place another four-star corner in a class already loaded with defensive backs.

A recruit east of Columbia to watch is defensive end Kyran Montgomery, a three-star defensive end from Indianapolis. He’s considering the Tigers and five other schools.

Assuming he comes to Missouri, Montgomery would be the second 2021 commit from Indianapolis, alongside four-star defensive back Daylan Carnell. The Tigers seems to be putting a premium on Indianapolis, with linebackers coach D.J. Smith heavily recruiting the area. If the Tigers can land two recruits from different schools in the area in this class, it could set up a pipeline to Indianapolis in the future.

Some other recruits within the radius include Isaiah Brevard, a four-star receiver and the No. 2 recruit in the state of Mississippi, and Davon Townley, who is listed as a four-star defensive end from Minneapolis.

Brevard tweeted on May 18 that Missouri was in his top 7, and tweeted Thursday that he’ll be committing Saturday. Brooks said he’s heard from multiple sources that Oregon is the frontrunner to land the wideout.

Townley has yet to announce a list of final schools or a commitment date, but Trieu thinks the Minnesota native will be the hardest get of any defensive line prospect the Tigers are currently recruiting.

Direct Flight Access

The priority being put on recruiting areas with direct flight access is something Trieu hasn’t heard other schools discuss, and he described it as “an extremely intelligent approach to getting kids on campus.

“I always think Minnesota, for instance, has a little bit of an advantage in the Big 10 sometimes, because Minneapolis is a hub airport-wise,” he said. “I think when you’re a hub, (you) don’t have to really plan out and look at the flights as much. They know that kids can get there.

“So I think it’s very smart to consider that when you are recruiting to a place like Columbia, which doesn’t have the giant hub airport.”

Beyond Lewis and Lovett, Missouri doesn’t appear to be heavily recruiting any 2021 recruits in Illinois, or near Chicago. Dallas, on the other hand, holds some intrigue.

The Tigers only have one commit from the Lone Star state in 2021, three-star defensive back Darius Jackson, but that could soon change. Jonathan Jones, a three-star defensive end from McKinney, Texas, tweeted June 18 that his top 5 schools include MU, as well as Baylor, Colorado, Nebraska and Texas.

Brooks said that Missouri appears to be “in the thick of it,” as he has heard some positive buzz about the Tigers and Jones in recent weeks.

Beyond Jones, Dallas and the state could once again be a notable pipeline moving forward, much like it was when Gary Pinkel helmed MU.

While Brooks said out-of-state schools should especially recruit the triangle of major cities in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, he noted one spot that gets frequently overlooked: East Texas.

“East Texas is a per-capita goldmine from a recruiting standpoint, and while a lot of it may be just outside that 450-mile range, recruiting the region should be a priority for a school like Missouri,” he said, mentioning former Tigers Braylon Webb and Rickey Hatley as fairly recent examples of East-Texas recruiting success for the Tigers.

Denver is an unknown. Until recently, Columbia Regional provided a direct flight to the city, but United Airlines has suspended its once-a-day Denver flight in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning travelers to and from Colorado must now connect through Dallas or Chicago.

Furthermore, and based on 247’s numbers, four of the 208 offers Missouri has extended to recruits in the class of 2021 have gone to prospects from Colorado. Three of those prospects have already committed to other schools.

If Columbia regional re-establishes a regular flight to and from Denver, the city, state, and most notably the airport present a lot of potential. It’s a common hub for connecting flights and could serve as a gateway to the West. And, as Drinkwitz put it, just because the Tigers are prioritizing certain states and regions doesn’t mean that is where their recruiting efforts end.

“We are in the middle of the middle and I can get to anywhere in the country,” he said. “If there is a connection to Mizzou and the SEC, and somebody’s lifelong dream is to be a Mizzou Tiger, … then we will make way for them (to be recruited).”

  • I'm a sports reporter, covering the 2020 Missouri football program. Give me your comic book recommendations. You can reach me at acole@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720. He/Him

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