By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
When one of the Quincy University assistant football coaches returns from a recruiting trip and has found someone to target, Hawks coach Tom Pajic asks one critical about the potential recruit.
What else does he do?
"Does he run track? Does he play basketball? Does he wrestle?" Pajic said. "We look for kids who carry themselves well, carry their weight well."
More importantly, they look for athletes who can have an impact.
Wednesday, Pajic unveiled a group of 28 high school players and one transfer who have signed national letters of intent with the Hawks. Finding athletes appears to be a priority as 12 of the 29 signees are listed as defensive backs who may or may not stick at that position as time wears on.
"We see what each player can project to," Pajic said. "Well, he's tough and physical, too. Maybe he can play outside linebacker. Maybe he's a spin-down safety. Maybe he's a free safety who does a great job covering ground. We look for those guys who have all those skills, but hopefully there's that knack of football. That high IQ."
Chris Harris has that and more.
The centerpiece of this recruiting class, Harris is the bruising, physical running back that fits well in Pajic's run-first scheme. A Class 5A all-stater last fall at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, the 6-foot, 190-pound Harris rushed for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns.
He finished his career as the Cyclones' third leading rusher with 3,205 yards, and he owns the single-game rushing record of 340 yards.
"Watch his highlight film," Pajic said. "He's a bruiser."
Considering the Hawks top-five rushers from last season stand between 5-4 and 5-8, there was a need for someone who can carry the load and overpower people.
"When you get a bigger back, a guy who can run, a guy that's powerful, he can change the course of what you can do offensively," Pajic said. "He's a big-time difference maker."
Troy Johnson may be, too. The 6-1, 240-pound fullback from Chicago St. Rita will be Harris' pathfinder the next several years.
"When you watch his film, he does a nasty job," Pajic said. "He's a bruiser. Anyone who pays close attention to what we do on offense, he's going to bring a physical presence to our program."
Pajic hopes the five offensive linemen the Hawks signed can do the same. One of those linemen is Central-Southeastern tackle Drew Miller, who earned Class 2A all-state honors after leading the Panthers to the state semifinals and the best season in program history.
The biggest impact, collectively, looks to come from the defense.
The Hawks signed 12 defensive backs -- that's 41 percent of the class -- and will expect many of those players to contribute on special teams as well. Among the defensive backs who could make an immediate impact are C-SE's Dalton Heubner, who was named the 2012 Herald-Whig Player of the Year, and Rochester's Gabe Ferguson, who played on three straight state championship teams.
They epitomize how the Hawks went about building this class. They looked for athletic players who could be leaders and wanted to impact.
No wonder 12 members of the recruiting class were team captains as seniors.
"Everyone is caught up in how tall, how fast, how strong, how big," Pajic said. "You can either play the game of football or you can't. The measurables don't always measure in. ... We tried to measure from what we saw. How good of a football player is that young man? What's his upside? Can we look two or three years from now and see he could be very special?
"I'm not so sure our evaluation wasn't based on who could play the game at a high level."