QUINCY -- Quincy University football coach Gary Bass saw Chicago as an untapped resource.
In the Hawks' previous three recruiting classes, they had signed just 11 players from the Chicagoland area. Meanwhile, in the same span, Quincy signed 49 players from the St. Louis metro area.
"I felt like that city was too good for us to not pull out more talent," Bass said.
So Bass, recruiting coordinator Sean Kelly and defensive backs coach Mitch Leppke changed their approach in the Windy City. Leppke made inroads in the Chicago Public League, landed a standout running back from one of the region's most storied programs and ended up signing 17 players from the northeast corner of the state.
"We went up there and pulled out some talent from programs that are used to winning," Bass said.
That's especially true of Joliet Catholic.
The Hilltoppers won the Class 5A state championship last fall and their 14th title overall behind a running game anchored by all-state back Keenan Hailey. Named the Joliet Herald's Player of the Year, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Hailey rushed for a Joliet Catholic single-season record 2,637 yards with 37 touchdowns.
"He's a stud," Bass said. "He's phenomenal."
Two other running backs from the Chicago area could be factors as well. West Aurora's Hezekiah Salter rushed for 1,023 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Chicago Simeon's DeAngelo Hudson had 800 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns.
"Tough as nails," Bass said of both backs.
He used a similar description for the rest of the players who are part of the Simeon pipeline.
The Hawks signed six players from Simeon, including three defensive backs in Kenshawn Bragg, Malik Lester and Keontis Parker. Defensive lineman Kenshay Brown and linebacker Malachi Wilbon helped the Wolverines post five shutouts, allow just 10.3 points per game and reach the Class 7A state quarterfinals.
"We were able to get quality young men who are going to be great players for our program in the future," Bass said.
It didn't come at a cost in the Gateway City. The Hawks still signed 10 players from the St. Louis area and had a junior college transfer who originally is from that area.
"St. Louis has always been good to us and continues to be," Bass said. "We have a lot of great relationships with high school coaches there and know there will always be a ton of talent coming out of St. Louis."