Eastern Michigan: Creighton feels good about class

Al Willman
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti — Eastern Michigan football coach Chris Creighton is entering his third year in Ypsilanti coming off a 1-10 season that saw the Eagles rank dead last in FBS in defensive yards allowed.

Eastern brought in 25 recruits for the second straight year, including five who enrolled this past fall.

“It’s a really good one,” Creighton said of his third recruiting class. “We found kids who want to be at Eastern Michigan and it’s a really talented group.”

Creighton admitted there would be an adjustment to new defensive coordinator Neal Neathery, who comes to Eastern from Texas-San Antonio to replace Brad McCaslin.

The Eagles also plan to switch from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-2-5. For the 17 defensive holdovers from Ron English’s tenure ascoach, that represents the third coordinator and scheme in the last five years.

Complete list of EMU recruits

“It was going to be new for the (recruits) no matter what,” Creighton said. “For our guys, we were fortunate to make the hire in December and we’ll have time to prepare with spring ball and the summer and what not.

“Will there be an adjustment? Yes. Will there be a learning curve that the guys will have to go through? Yes. He’s (Neathery) not new to the program in that I’ve coached with him for 13 years, and that’s relevant.”

With a record of 3-21 in two seasons, Creighton said he understands people look at the wins and losses, but he doesn’t necessarily feel pressured.

“(There’s) not a pressure in the way that I would assume you’re talking about,” Creighton said. “Is there an excitement? Absolutely. Progress is being made.

“It’s pretty easy to erase last year. I know there’s a measuring stick of wins and losses, I get it. We were really close to capturing some momentum (in the first half last year), but we didn’t. There’s a heck of a lot more to the story than last year’s record, so there’s excitement for sure.”

Starting at home

Of Eastern’s 25 new recruits, eight are from Michigan. Perhaps the most noteworthy is defensive end Justice Williams (Belleville).

“We had him at camp and he’s a fierce competitor,” Creighton said.

Williams had offers from Western Michigan, Toledo and Central Michigan.

“They recruited me better,” Williams said of Eastern. “They showed me the most love. I talked to them almost every week.”

He said being in college would be an adjustment, especially given his short high school career — only two seasons. In 2015, Williams’ only varsity experience, he made 47 tackles, 14 for loss, nine sacks and forced three fumbles.

“Just being on my own is going to be a major adjustment and the level of intensity,” Williams said. “College football is non-stop and it’s just a shock to everyone.”

He said his father, Steve Hawkins, helped him every step of the way.

After graduating from Detroit Central High School in 1991, Hawkins played safety and wide receiver at Western from 1991-94, and was an All-Mid-American-Conference player as a Bronco in 1993 as a safety. He was drafted as a receiver in 1994 by the New England Patriots and played seven games that year, catching a pair of passes for 22 yards, according to pro-football-reference.com.

“My dad was there for me throughout the whole process,” Williams said. “(He) helped guide me through what was real and how everything worked. But ultimately, he still felt that the decision was mine and he was comfortable wherever I went.”

And what did his father say when the time came to sign?

“He was very proud,” Williams said. “(With) him growing up playing football and playing in college and playing in the NFL, it just kind of made him excited for me.”

Recruiting in Michigan

Of the three Michigan MAC schools, Eastern’s eight in-state recruits is the fewest this year. Central led the pack with 16 (of 18 total recruits), while Western signed 13 (of 25).

Does Creighton see that as a problem?

“I don’t think so,” he said. “We offered guys that chose to go elsewhere and we offered guys that we got. We want to continue to do a good job in Michigan, but we’re going to go from Michigan outward to find guys to be a part of our program.”

There are very few programs, Creighton said, that can operate almost exclusively within the state they’re in.

“I’m going into my third year here,” he said. “Whoever recruited the guys that were here and are still here, they’re our guys. That’s not something that I’m hiding behind.

“There are 20-plus seniors and I will have been their coach for the vast majority of their time here. I’m proud of those guys.

Al Willman is a freelance writer