Drinkwitz’s in-state focus creates strong 2021 recruiting class

Drinkwitz’s in-state focus creates strong 2021 recruiting class

Since he became the Tigers’ head football coach this past December, Eli Drinkwitz has not kept his recruiting strategy under wraps: The state of Missouri is his No. 1 priority.

“We have to recruit our state, and we have to be great,” Drinkwitz said in an interview with The Big 550 KTRS. “That doesn’t mean every player in the state can play at Mizzou, and we can win the SEC East. We have to understand that they have to be good enough to help us win the SEC East. But once we identify that player, we have to go get them.”

Up to this point, Drinkwitz has executed his recruiting plan successfully, building one of Missouri’s strongest recruiting classes in recent history.

At the time of writing, Drinkwitz’s program was ranked No. 30 in the country per 247Sports class rankings. This class is in a position to finish with their highest spot on the recruiting leaderboard since 2015, when Gary Pinkel’s final recruiting cadre finished No. 25.

The Tigers have received commitments from 18 players — seven of whom are from Missouri — since the beginning of the 2020 calendar year with a few more prospects who have MU listed in their shortlists but have yet to announce their decision.

Missouri’s class ranking is no accident. Drinkwitz has chosen to focus in-state because he realizes that if he were to duke it out with the likes of Alabama, Georgia or LSU for the most prized prospects in the Southeast, a first-year SECoutheastern Conference head coach would not come out on top.

“We don’t want to overextend ourselves,” Drinkwitz said, according to the Kansas City Star. “We don’t want to get into battles that we will not be able to win, down specifically in the Southeast. I can’t tell where everybody else is going to recruit, but I think Missouri has an opportunity to recruit in the Midwest with the SEC logo and be successful.”

Focusing the coaching staff’s recruiting energy towards in-state prospects has paid dividends for the Tigers’ future, as four out of the state’s top 10 players and six out of the top 20 have announced their intent to don the black and gold. Drinkwitz has been able to do in one recruiting cycle what his predecessor, current Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom, never accomplished during his four years in Columbia.

Drinkwitz has keyed in specifically on the greater St. Louis region and has succeeded in recruiting both public and private school talent. Drinkwitz locked in four recruits from St. Louis’ Christian private high school scene, including the Tigers’ highest-ranked recruit: Travion Ford, the Lutheran North High School defensive lineman who is the No. 193 prospect in the nation.

The Tigers also landed defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo and running back Taj Butts, who will arrive from the nationally-ranked DeSmet Jesuit program that won the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 6 Championship in 2019.

Just across the Illinois border in East St. Louis, the Tigers could have an offensive duo with preexisting chemistry already in place. Tyler Macon, the 13th ranked dual threat quarterback in the nation, had an impressive performance during the Elite 11 that was enough to bump him up nearly 200 spots in the rankings and earn him a fourth star.

One of Macon’s highly-ranked offensive weapons, four-star wideout Dominic Lovett, will announce whether or not he will team up with Macon in Columbia on Sept. 11.

Before the early signing period has ramped up, Drinkwitz’s first complete recruiting class already has lined up the most in-state recruits since 2015, when Gary Pinkel was still calling the shots at Faurot Field. According to PowerMizzou, the team’s recruiting success under Drinkwitz stemmed from their jump into more 21st-century recruiting tools like commitment videos and graphic packages.

“He’s embraced the things that are important to kids now; the social media, the edits, the videos; all of the branding stuff that he’s doing,” Lutheran North head coach Carl Reed said per PowerMizzou. “That’s what’s important to kids today. Whether you think it should be or shouldn’t be, that’s what it is, and he’s been able to make a lot of headway with that.”

Drinkwitz’s goal has been to win the SEC East and a bowl game from the start. The 2021 recruiting class, composed of top in-state talent, might help the Tigers achieve that goal sooner rather than later.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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