IU’s 2020 class aims to strengthen football family

If Bryson Bonds heard the tale of his recruiting journey months earlier, it may have sounded strange.

Here was this safety from one of the country’s football meccas, Texas, visiting a state often synonymous with basketball, Indiana. His host for the December visit was a sophomore named Monster — Devon “Monster” Matthews, in full, but just Monster, for short.

Walking around this roundball paradise, led by a man named Monster, Bonds quickly found something familiar. It’s a sentiment many of the Hoosiers’ recruits are swayed by.

When IU coach Tom Allen and his players speak, they aren’t selling personal glory. Kind of like Bonds’ dad, Tommy, who coached him growing up, the Hoosiers stress the collective.

“You can’t be the hero. My dad always says, ‘You have to let the hero come to you.’ He always made it a ‘we’ situation,” Bonds said. “I don’t know any of Monster’s stats, but I can tell you he focused on the ‘we’ side of it, the team side.”

Bonds was one of 18 athletes to sign letters of intent with the Hoosiers on Wednesday because of what he learned during that tour with Monster, as well as a steak and lobster dinner with fellow recruits.

IU, they feel, is trending in the right direction with an 8-4 season and a Gator Bowl appearance. At the dinner table, Bonds found himself surrounded by a group of young men excited about being together, determined to make the sum of their parts greater than their individual identities.

This IU recruiting class, like many compiled before it, isn’t filled with four- and five-star athletes. Bonds, a three-star from Crowley, Tex., chose between the Hoosiers and Kansas. Only one IU recruit, receiver Rashawn Williams, received a four-star grade from 247Sports.

But the Hoosiers’ formula for success lies less in a player’s ranking than their overall makeup. A degree of togetherness has been credited for IU’s success, from a core of veteran leaders to a 2019 freshman class dubbed “the new wave.”

This next wave came together in a group chat named “Family,” each recruit adding the next when they verbally committed. Bonds was immediately added in early December. His phone was flooded with welcomes from the rest of the group.

“We welcomed him with open arms,” Fort Wayne Dwenger tackle Luke Wiginton said.

Bonds and his counterparts will be tasked with keeping camaraderie flowing between the walls at Memorial Stadium. Allen, in his third year, thinks he has a better gauge for which recruits will fit the mold.

“When you believe in your heart that this is home, this is where used supposed to be, this is where you want to be, then you fight and you persevere, you start to develop grit, which is what we think is a critical part of this program,” Allen said. “If I don’t feel good about that, I don’t care about how good a player he is, I’m leery to bring him in here.”

It’s not clear if this class will produce immediate contributors, but it does provide quality depth in some areas of need. That starts with the offensive line, which includes six additions.

That group, specifically, comes with some size and strength but also age. Luke Haggard, a junior college transfer, will be a junior when he first steps onto the field. Dylan Powell, a grad transfer from Stanford, should have two years of eligibility remaining, as well.

Going older was crucial because the current junior class is almost as small as the outgoing senior group. There are 18 juniors on IU’s roster, redshirt or otherwise. There are 13 seniors ready to graduate.

There are 80 freshmen and sophomores.

“You want to get a little more dispersement early so you don’t have a bunch of guys leaving at one time,” Allen said. “We’re not totally in balance right now, a couple more cycles to get to that point. … That’s why we didn’t want to take too many o-linemen out of high school because it kind of gets your numbers a little bit off.”

Getting the age balance right is one component. Getting the right personalities is another.

This class should add character. Bonds, for instance, not only finished his career with 300 tackles but also earned offers from a host of Ivy League schools. Caleb Murphy, a defensive end from Campbellsburg, was hailed as a future “captain type” by d-line coach Mark Hagen.

Dexter Williams, IU’s quarterback commit, was singled out as much for his persona as his arm and his legs.

“When you meet him, get to know him and his family, he just has that special charisma about him that you want from a guy that is the face of your team in the future at that position,” Allen said. “Go on campus, meet everybody at this school, they just rave about him.

“We joked about him being the mayor of the whole area because everybody just loves him.”

Allen hopes he has found the right people. He also hopes he’s recruited the length and athleticism necessary to keep winning in the Big Ten.

None of IU’s signees are less than 6-foot tall, including the skill positions. At receiver, David Baker is 6-3 and Rashawn Williams is 6-2. Christopher Keys and Lem Watley-Neely are 6-foot defensive backs. Javon Swinton, a 6-2 “athlete,” will most likely start at receiver. A.J. Barner is a 6-6 tight end.

On the line, Randy Holtz, an offensive guard from Fort Wayne, checks in at 6-7, 350 pounds. Haggard stands 6-7.

“Once you kind of know the model of a young man that has success here, you feel more comfortable saying ‘This guy reminds us of this guy,’” Allen said. “You think he has a chance to help us on the field or off the field, the way they fit with us.”

In dimensions and demeanor, the Hoosiers’ coaches believe they have found another batch of athletes of the proper mold.

Bonds believes that, as well.

“I have the full confidence, whenever we come in, within the first two to three years, I think we’ll be able to win a Big Ten championship,” Bonds said. “I feel like my class is a great class. I feel like we have people that are going to be dedicated.”

4 comments

  1. TA has done a great job improving recruiting at IU, but the next step in the evolution of his program will be to sign a greater number of more highly rated players. Next year’s recruiting class should consist of a greater number of even better athletes with the same high character.

  2. Have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when the staff was nor able to take advantage of their 8-4 record and flip a couple of highly rated recruits during the last few weeks. Also, rather surprising that IU had no signees from Florida in this class, especially with the numbers from that state in the previous two classes. There was a 6’7″, 200# tight end that had been committed and then listed as a soft verbal, but he hasn’t signed. Does anyone know what happened with him?

    Somehow Purdue was able to parlay a 6-7 record last year and a 4-8 record this year into a #30 recruiting class. How does that happen?

    As long as IU fans fail to show up, and half of those that do show up leave at halftime, it will be hard to sign many 4 stars or an occasional 5*. If TA and staff can get 3 or 4 four stars and a bunch of high 3*’s for 2021, he will have a chance to continue to build the program. Another class like this and things will go down hill.

    I am anxious to see how many IU fans show up at the Gator Bowl. If they can’t make an effort to support an 8-4 team playing a storied SEC program like Tennessee in the Gator Bowl in Florida, when will they support the team?

  3. This class is small. That accounts for most of the lower rating. Teams can sign up to 25 but have to be no more than 85 total. IU could only sign less than 20. They had specific needs so they needed to use what scholarships they did have very judicially. It’s a good class under the circumstances. Top 50 which makes it 3 years in a row. First time ever for IU. Plus the impact of the great season and Allen’s new contract should have greater effect on the 2021 class. A lot of recruits had already committed well before we had such success.

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