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  • Photo: SIUE athletics

    Photo: SIUE athletics

    Watch Out for SIUE on the Recruiting Trail!

    SIUE head coach Jeremy Spates (center) with Daryl Thomas (right) (photo courtesy of SIUE athletics)

    It may have flown under the radar as the hire was officially announced during the opening week of the 2021-22 collegiate wrestling season, but SIU Edwardsville bringing Edwardsville native Daryl Thomas home and to the Cougar coaching staff could prove to be a stroke of genius for head coach Jeremy Spates. Thomas and the members of the SIUE coaching staff have hit the recruiting trail hard and are getting some excellent verbal commitments.

    Thomas joined the SIUE staff after spending the previous two seasons at Campbell. Before that, Thomas assisted at Old Dominion, which is where he really developed a reputation for being a top-flight recruiter.

    Last week, SIU Edwardsville received its second verbal from a top-100 prospect from the Class of 2023. It was their third out of the top-150. For comparison's sake, the Cougars only signed three Big Board'ers from 2018 to 2021. The team may have taken some lumps on the mat in 2021-22, going 1-14 and not having any national qualifiers this season, but that hasn't mattered on the recruiting front, as the Cougar staff has been able to sell their program to talented high school juniors and seniors.

    The latest commit for SIUE is Braxton Strick (Ozark, MO), who is currently ranked #79 overall in the Class of 2023. Strick is a three-time Missouri Class 4 state placewinner. Each year, he has improved by a step on the state podium, topping out as a state champion in 2022. Last summer, Strick was eighth in Fargo's 16U Greco-Roman national tournament.

    Strick joins #86 Santino Robinson (Mascoutah, IL) and #137 Brock Woodcock (St. Clair, MO) as rising seniors that have already pledged to SIUE. Robinson is an Illinois state runner-up, while Woodcock is a two-time Missouri state champion that was recently third at NHSCA Junior Nationals.

    Just because SIUE has all the makings of an excellent Class of 2023, don't think that the Cougar staff will have to wait another year to reap the rewards of a remarkable recruiting class. Frankly, the 2022 class is going to be solid itself. Two of the top 250 seniors have inked with SIUE, #189 Daniel Guanajuato (Valiant Prep, AZ) and #234 Bradley Gillum (Dekalb, IL). Guanajuato was third at both UWW Cadets in freestyle, along with Fargo's Juniors. His Fargo placement came at 106 lbs, while he was 48 kg for UWW's. If Guanajuato can grow into a full-sized college 125, he'll be a steal for the SIUE staff. Gillium was a double AA in Fargo at the 16U level in 2019, including a title in Greco, and was seventh in Junior Greco last summer. Gillum was a two-time Illinois state runner-up and a champion at the open state tournament in 2021. Though not on the Senior Big Board, Marcel Lopez (New London, IA) joined the elite fraternity of four-time Iowa state champions (30) this February. Lopez competes at Iowa's smallest classification and may get overlooked nationally.

    In addition to the quality of the Cougars recruits, the staff is also marking their recruiting territory. Gillum and Robinson are top-flight in-state recruits. SIUE has made recruiting Missouri a priority as Strick and Woodcock hail from the neighboring state. Another '22 recruit, Andrew Doehring, is from Missouri. The Cougar staff has also secured commitments from Indiana and Ohio, two other midwest states that typically have plenty of DI talent. Along with the in-state and regional recruiting, SIUE has ventured to the west coast to get Guanajuato and Alec Peralta (Temecula Valley, CA). Daniel Guanajuato will join his older brother, Davian, who went 6-5 wrestling unattached as a true freshman in 2021-22.

    As the recruiting battles end and high-quality talent enrolls at SIU Edwardsville, another fight begins. That's the task of developing green true freshmen into productive DI wrestlers. But, I imagine that Spates' staff embraces that phase as getting the wrestlers on-campus can be the difficult part for many non-Power Five wrestling programs.

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