UIW focuses on replenishing core players with 2023 recruiting class

Photo courtesy UIW Athletics

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Clint Killough didn’t have very long to recover following UIW’s 35-32 loss to North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals. The loss was disappointing, but Killough and his staff needed to turn their attention quickly to recruiting after losing Walter Payton Award winner Lindsey Scott Jr. and other key players to graduation.

“We lost about 14 guys to graduation. You're talking about guys that are four and five-year UIW Cardinals,” Killough said. “You're talking about guys like Kelechi Anyalabechi and Cam Preston, who are core pieces of our team.”

When it came time to set a recruiting strategy, it was apparent to Killough that the initial focus needed to be on rebuilding the Cardinals' core group of players.

“The way that I look at it is when guys transfer out, you replace them with transfers at that position, but when guys graduate, you need a good core of young talent that will become the next class of four to five-year Cardinals,” Killough said. “Guys that are UIW through and through and in 20 years are coming back to the university and are proud alums.”

That core group of “program” guys is the key to building a program able to sustain success over many years.

“In today's recruiting world, you have to be able to adapt and adjust to certain situations. We have to maintain a level of competitiveness and a talent level, and there are times when transfers can help you maintain that level,” Killough said. “There are times when you need to add a good core group of high school players that will grow up and become good players. The transfer portal has created the opportunity to sign high school players that are extremely high in quality.”

The Cardinals are no stranger to success since Eric Morris inherited a program in disarray in 2018. Morris led UIW to its first two playoff appearances and Southland Conference titles in school history. G.J. Kinne took over last year and led the Cardinals to the FCS semifinals. One man has been a part of the program since it began to rise in 2018. His name is Clint Killough.

“I'm confident in saying that I was an integral part of many facets of building this program. The approach every day is to solve problems as they come and continue to press forward and understand who we are while being proud of it enough to communicate on a genuine level not only with our coaches but our players as well,” Killough said. “We are here to win championships, point blank, period. That's the goal, and that's going to be the goal every year.”

The ultimate goal is to win a national championship, and Killough understands the need to have his coaching staff and players buy into the vision.

“There's a lot of good football players on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if those kids don't trust you,” Killough said. “Something we've adopted here since I knew I was going to get the job is winning with intention. These kids are 18 to 22 years old. They're like walking lie detectors. 

“They know when you're giving them the runaround and when you're giving them lip service. They have dreams and aspirations that they want to achieve, and if we're going to win with intention, then we're going to be intentional with our details. We're going to be intentional with our effort. We're going to love them intentionally, and we're going to trust them intentionally. We will continue to win intentionally if we can do those four things.”

UIW opened a few eyes when they chose the 29-year-old Killough to take over a program that has rocketed into the national conversation in FCS. But Killough has a unique ability to connect with those of previous generations and those in high school. He also has the self-awareness to understand he needs help from his coaches and players.

“I tried to hire a staff with different sets of superpowers. Each one of these coaches brings something new to the table. It’s the same with our players. They each bring something new. If we all have the same superpowers, then we're not cultivating our powers to be holistic players and men.”

Killough hopes that the sum of his team’s superpowers will be enough to avoid the kryptonite that can ruin a season. Those answers will be provided later this year. For now, the Cardinals are focused on developing their core.

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