It is a good day to be an Evangel Crusader football fan.
Just three months removed from its first winning season since 2005, third year head Coach Brenton Illum and his staff have just wrapped up what may be one of the most talented recruiting classes in recent memory.
The 31-member recruiting class has a distinct local flavor, featuring 10 players from the greater Springfield area.
“We have a ton of Evangel alumni that are coaching in the area and rely on those guys heavily to send us the people that would fit great with us. This is not for everybody; Evangel is a very unique place. I feel like we’ve identified a lot of guys in the area that will fit in really well to this place,” said Illum.
Among that crop of players this year is a strong representation by local power Lebanon. Four Yellow Jackets (Quarterback Hayden Bracket, running back Brock West, tight end JT Dorris and kicker Andre Smith ) are following former Lebanon standout Justin Breedlove to dawn the maroon and white of Evangel.
“Coach Christian (Lebanon’s head coach) has done a phenomenal job up there of creating a winning culture, a blue collar work ethic, a special team environment and we’re really proud to have those guys join us. Coach Blake (Evangel Offensive Line Coach) has been recruiting those kids and has been a main stay in their neighborhood,” said Illum.
The guys from Lebanon will have to get used to calling a former rival “teammate”, as Camdenton tight end Chase Nugent will also stay in the Ozarks to play his college football.
“You feel like you’ve got to walk on egg shells a bit when you talk about Lebanon and Camdenton,” said a smiling Illum, alluding to the intensity of the Lebanon/ Camdenton rivalry. “But, Chase is a great guy, really impressed with he and his family. He is exactly what we look for. He’s going to achieve his potential, take his academics seriously, work his butt off, he’s just an outstanding kid and we’re fortunate to have him,” finished Illum.
Evangel also received Letters of Intent from former Lighthouse Christian standouts Chance Woosley and Brandon Staley. Staley and Woosley were fixtures on both sides of the ball for the 8-3 Chargers.
“Those guys just flat out win. They play in the homeschool division (and) were fun to watch. We’ve seen those guys in camps for the last couple of years and really impressed with them. We feel like we got a steal in Chance,” said Illum.
Rounding out the local players is a quartet of talented Central Ozarks Conference stalwarts. Corey Murphy (Willard, tight end), Cade Stone (Branson, defensive end) and Marshfield’s Dillon Harms (running back) and Kaleb Goodpaster (center). Murphy is making it a family affair at Evangel. His sister is currently a student their while his father has been an employee at the university for 22 years.
Evangel was also able to nab recruits from outside the Ozarks, many of which coming from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“We spent a lot of time in Tulsa, Northwest Arkansas, Dallas and Houston. Those are the area’s we recruit the most. We go to Central Florida a fair amount and Los Angeles some, but we did really well in Dallas this year. A lot of those guys are exactly what we’re looking for. Evangel-type people, they have high spiritual priorities and they can really play the game. We feel very fortunate to get the guys that we have,” said Illum.
Evangel will look to build on last year’s 7-4 season that saw them come just short of reaching the NAIA postseason for the first time in nearly a decade. The Crusaders return nine All-HAAC players, including the reigning HAAC Offensive Player of the Year in wide receiver Jesse Vaughn.
However, Evangel will have to replace offensive coordinator Joe Bever who helped resurrect the Crusader attack into one of the most potent in the nation.
Even with last year’s returners and the depth of this recruiting class, Illum and his staff know there is no time for complacency.
“Improvement in every area will lead us to the conference titles and playoff appearances; those are just a product of us doing our jobs well. Now that we’re three years in we’ve got a real good handle on where we’d like this program to go. The foundation has been set, and continuing to be solidified with a class like this. Now it is just a matter of time. We believe in the way we do our business. We believe in the way we work. We believe in the character we are building with this team and the winning is just a byproduct of that and should be coming in a big way very soon,” said Illum.
Evangel will open the 2013 campaign at on Sep. 14 at Kansas Wesleyan.