Any deserving Topeka football prospect is probably going to get a long, hard look from Washburn.
It only makes sense for the Ichabods to build from their hometown base. Enough that if a recruit leaves the city, particularly for another Division II program, the WU staff knows all too well that player could flourish elsewhere.
“I hate losing a kid from Topeka,’’ conceded coach Craig Schurig, whose WU program on Monday conducted its media day at Yager Stadium.
“Usually when they end up on the other side, they do well. If we’ve seen them and have recruited them, there’s probably a pretty good chance they’re going to be successful in the MIAA.’’
That projection is based on first-hand knowledge in most cases.
Occasionally a homegrown upstart can emerge, such as Austin Willis. He signed with Emporia State as a sprinter in track, but walked on in football, eventually received a shot with an NFL team and is now a football assistant for the Hornets.
In most cases, however, those who do leave Topeka — and it happens, particularly when Emporia State, Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State all field solid in-state programs in the MIAA — have been on the Ichabods’ radar.
“It’s not like a kid from out of town, where you’re just going off film,’’ Schurig said. “You’ve seen these Topeka kids for a while. For the most part, if we don’t get them, we’re going to play against them and they’re going to be good.
“We try to get in on all of the ones we want to play, but we can’t get them all. Some of them want to get out of town.’’
Schurig had a working knowledge of Topeka when he was hired at Washburn. He recruited Topeka as an assistant for Pittsburg State.
Now, as the 16-year dean of MIAA coaches, Schurig is even more comfortable recruiting the immediate vicinity. Washburn lists 27 Topekans on its roster, including Schurig’s son, Mitch, a redshirt freshman quarterback.
“You feel as if your school has a name behind it, football has a name behind it and some things that have been done in athletics have a name behind it,’’ Schurig said. “We bring them on campus and once we get them to campus, the campus is beautiful. Those new dorms really show well, so it’s gotten easier that way.’’
A couple of Topekans who moved on from Washburn to play in the NFL, Trey Lewis (Washburn Rural) and Michael Wilhoite (Highland Park), headline the former Bods Schurig points to as local contributors.
He also remembers the first big get among Topekans he signed at WU, Grant Gould of Highland Park.
“Right away, we got some of the best (Topeka) kids,’’ Schurig said. “We made it a priority.’’
Of course, there are those who are influenced by rivals.
Just this year, Seaman’s Dalton Cowan and Topeka High’s Corey Thomas reported to Emporia State after playing in the Shrine Bowl. Another Shrine Bowl participant from Topeka, Hunter Browning of Washburn Rural, is in Washburn’s camp.
“I really wanted to get out of this state, but when I was a senior, the very first day a college could offer me, Washburn was the first one through the door at 8 a.m.,’’ recalled WU senior linebacker Austin Tillman, who starred for Topeka High.
“They showed me the most love and they showed me they wanted me the most. Looking back, it was a good thing. I don’t regret anything. I love Washburn and it’s great to have my family be here close.’’
To each his own.
Washburn, though, attempts to connect with homegrown talent.
Part of that effort could include a new indoor facility. A decision whether to approve the proposed project, and on what scale, will likely come next month.
That would be one more piece to a recruiting process Schurig enjoys, especially when city prospects visit campus and actually get their first in-depth look at Washburn.
“It’s amazing,’’ he said. “Some of them we’ve had in camps, even when they were little. But you’d be amazed at the number of Topeka kids who have not explored the campus. So when they come in, we get the same reaction. They had no idea it was this nice.’’
Contact Kevin Haskin at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.