Comparing Zook and Beckman

I spend a lot of time wondering how I can best make this point.  The list inside this post was compiled more than three months ago, but I haven’t found the right time to post it.  Mostly because it’s something that can so easily be interpreted the wrong way.  But hey, it’s 11:24 pm, and this is the first chance I’ve had to blog in four days, so let’s do this.

The topic: Zook’s recruits leaving and Beckman’s recruits sticking around.  [Read more...]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Sam Mays

They’re both around 6′-3″ and close to 180 lbs. They’re both wide receivers from Texas. They’re both members of the 2015 Illini recruiting class. They committed to Illinois within 24 hours of each other. Whether they like it or now, Sam Mays and A.D. Miller will forever be linked. This is a good thing. [Read more...]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – A.D. Miller

This recruiting class will have, I don’t know, maybe 23 players. Which means from March to February, I get to write 23 of these (plus two or three more for basketball) in the span of 365 days. So OF COURSE we land three players in four days while I’m in Michigan on vacation. Not that I’m complaining. [Read more...]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Henry Enyenihi

A Juco discussion broke out in the comments section of the Butkus Statue post, so I figured I should maybe talk about The Whole Juco Thing while addressing our latest junior college commitment, Henry Enyenihi.

First off, how great is a name like Henry Enyenihi? Specifically, how great is it that someone with the last name Enyenihi has a first name with a “hen” sound and a “ree” sound? Hen-ree-enn-yen-ee-hee. Say it to yourself eleven times. It just flows, right?

Wait, is it Henry en-YEN-uh-hee or Henry EN-yen-NEE-hee? You know what? Either one works.

First, let’s talk jucos. Here’s my personal opinion on junior college players. Please take this in an “if I was the head coach” sense, not necessarily how I see Tim Beckman’s approach to jucos.

Mike White went to the Rose Bowl with California jucos back in the 1980′s, and that started a trend of “jucos are great for the program” among Illini fans. Even when I was in school in the early 90′s, if we added a junior college recruit, everyone would repeat the same “you know Mike White went to the Rose Bowl with junior college players” mantra. There is a distinct advantage to juco players: you get to screen them a second time.

When you recruit a high school player, you’re mostly recruiting what the player might become. Good frame, good feet, add 75 lbs to him and you’ve probably landed a great right tackle. With junior college players, you’ve watched that development and are mostly recruiting what the player has become after a few years of growing and maturing. That’s not the case for every junior college recruit, of course, but you do have the advantage of further watching their development. Prep school works like this as well. Peter Cvijanovic didn’t get an offer out of high school but he went to prep school, added the 50 lbs recruiters were wondering if he could add, and here he is now as a scholarship tackle.

There’s also a drawback to junior college recruiting: player development. Look at every program you admire (Wisconsin, Oregon, etc) and you’ll see this huge player development program. You redshirt a lot, you keep the same schemes, you train your recruits in those schemes, and you keep cranking out winning season after winning season. Once that Wisconsin guard or that Oregon wideout has had three years of learning everything there is to know about the offense, you unleash them as a redshirt junior and just keep winning and winning.

You can’t really do that with jucos. Maybe the first year they learn your system and the second year they’re gone, and then suddenly you have to replace them. You can win that way (see State, Kansas), but you have to keep adding more and more jucos because these are already graduating. Once you get into that cycle, it’s hard to get out.

So to me, adding junior college kids is a balance. If you know you have immediate needs on your roster, yes, by all means, load up on jucos. We struggled on the defensive line last year and so the staff went out and landed three junior college defensive linemen. Bravo. Exactly what we needed. However, guess what? Those jucos will be gone 18 months from today and we’ll have to start all over on the defensive line. Juco recruiting is fine, but you must add high school recruits at the same positions so that the high school recruit will be ready to go when the junior college guy graduates.

This offer (and verbal) here – Henry Enyenihi – makes sense in that regard. We lost Matt Domer to grades. We lost Dami Ayoola. Ty Isaac picked Michigan. LaKeith Walls was tried at RB but has moved to linebacker. Donovonn Young will be graduating. We’ll really need some depth at tailback next season, so that’s what we’re doing with Enyenihi.

And I like that we’re adding both high school running backs (Brown, Corbin) with a junior college running back in the same class. As I said above, that’s always ideal to me. Enyenihi plays in 2015 and 2016 and then Brown or Corbin (or both) are ready in 2017 after two years of development.

OK, let’s actually talk about Enyenihi and where he fits. When I heard about this my first reaction was that this is the Matt Domer replacement. But given the fact that Domer is going to attempt to enroll again in January (the Paul James Plan) and might arrive at the same time as Enyenihi, I think it’s more accurate to say that Enyenihi is the Dami Ayoola replacement. In fact, I think he’s nearly exactly the Ayoola replacement. More of a power back than a shifty back, ready to take over the power role after Donovonn Young graduates next year – yep, that’s exactly what this is.

In fact, Rivals’ list of junior college recruits lists Ayoola as the #67 juco nationally (he’s at Arizona Western CC and is already verballed to Arizona in 2015) and lists Enyenihi as the #91 juco nationally. I’ll track both their final two years of college ball at Arizona and Illinois and let you know which one came out with the better college career.

Film – looks solid. Runs “low” like Ayoola, so he might be able to deliver some hits and keep on running. Nothing really all that crazy on film – I don’t think he’s a future pro – and I don’t see the vision that maybe a Mikel Leshoure had, but overall, perfectly decent junior college film. I think he can contribute to the rotation.

Tom Cruises: The fact that we were his only FBS offer gives pause (although, again, most programs wait for sophomore year film to chase jucos – at least they used to), but seeing him ranked on Rivals juco list is very encouraging. It means that someone on Rivals juco side saw his film and was impressed. And with Ayoola gone and Domer not in school, this fills a huge need for next year – immediate help after Young graduates. So that all settles on 2.5 Toms for me.

HenREE EnYENuhHEE – two and one half Tom Cruises.


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Zach Heath

With this verbal, I’m struck by something. It’s easy to mechanically go through these posts, evaluating film and projecting future lineups to see where this new player might fit into future Illini football depth charts. But sometimes, it’s helpful to remember what’s really happening here. So I’ll get to the film review, but first I want to talk about something else. [Read more...]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Zeke Martin

I’m all the way back now.  I had my little crisis of confidence last week – David Edwards picked Wisconsin, Matt Domer couldn’t get in to school, and I stared down another 10 years of “we’ll get there some day soon” – but now I’m better.  As I said at the time, no way I can write the Zeke Martin LLUOI while in that mood.  It wouldn’t be fair to him.  The day Martin picked Illinois was the day Wisconsin stole Edwards, so all I could see was that Wisconsin made waves while we made a ripple.  No chance I could write one of these while reeling.

That’s the thing about writing as a fan.  A newspaper can write “Illinois received a commitment from Billy Anklebreaker.  He had offers from these six schools.  A recruiting evaluation says these things about him.  His high school coach said this.  The end.”  For me, I’m either running around celebrating and screaming about our future success with this player, or I’m researching film to see how his skills will fit with our current scheme, or, yes, sometimes I’m lamenting that we landed player Z when I wanted player Y instead.  I’m a fan first and a writer second.  And a journalist 36th.

I’ve had parents email me when I gave their child one Tom Cruise.  I’m totally fine with that – love their belief in their kid, actually.  I’ve had fans email me when I give a Rivals 3-star four Tom Cruises, saying I only like their film because they picked Illinois.  It’s a silly thing to “rank” kids who are being recruiting on the potential of what they might grow to be, but I was tired of the Illinois Ceiling where a verbal to Illinois meant your ranking had peaked so I set out to evaluate every player on my own.  With that comes… nearly everyone disagreeing with you.

The hardest thing, of course, is knowing that the kid might read your words.  I gave Chris James one Tom Cruise back in February.  He likely doesn’t even know this site exists, but what is my response if I interview him and he says “I hear you think I should be one of the lowest ranked players on the team”?  There’s a reason all rankings are anonymous.  No Rivals reporter wants to be at some summer camp interviewing a kid and have the kid say “I saw that you thought I was a two star”.

So that’s why I developed the Cruise system.  This player picked Illinois, so they’re immediately my guy.  They just made the best decision they could possibly make.  Now, am I going to be golf clapping with one Tom Cruise or am I going to be jumping on Oprah’s couch with five?  That’s the point behind all of this.

With Zeke, let me start with Tom Cruises.  I’m giving Zeke Martin one and one half Tom Cruises.  The reason for this low “ranking” is that Zeke is to football what Nnanna Egwu is to basketball.  I read somewhere (and if I could remember where I’d link it here but it’s been 10 days) that Zeke has only played one year of football.  He wanted to play another sport (baseball?), finally picked football as he grew larger, and now he’s this really big offensive lineman headed to a Big Ten school.

Because of that, I think of Zeke as a project recruit.  The offer is going to be all based on what he might become.  Similar to Nnanna.  He hadn’t played basketball for very long, and didn’t have any refined skills of note, but schools offered him because of his size and athleticism.  He had those offers based on what he might become, not what he was.

I see Zeke Martin just like that.  He’s not a big name.  Remember all of those juniors we hosted on campus last fall at the Wisconsin game?  Zeke Martin had been playing football for maybe a month at that point.  On a list of college football somebodies, he’s kind of a nobody.  Big Ten schools offer earlier and earlier these days – you see lots and lots of 2016 offers going out right now.  For someone like Zeke, he had zero chance at one of those offers because he hadn’t even played football yet.

So that puts Zeke on the “project” pile for me.  He plays tackle in high school but he’ll have to learn guard or center here.  When he gets to Rantoul next summer, his technique will probably need a lot of work when lining up next to guys who have been coached for 5+ years.  There is so much to learn before you’re ready for Big Ten defensive linemen.

The good news is, we’ve had a lot of success finding “project” recruits in Ohio.  Since arriving at Illinois Tim Beckman has added lots of lower-ranked Ohio guys like V’Angelo Bentley, Mason Monheim, and Austin Schmidt.  I would have given Schmidt 1.5 Tom Cruises, and now he’s probably going to be our starting right tackle this fall. We’ve found a lot of players in Ohio the last few classes, and many will contribute this fall (including Dawaune Smoot, Caleb Day, and Chunky Clements).

Zeke Martin. 1.5 Tom Cruises.  Now lets see if we can get an offer out to Billy Anklebreaker, because I’m hearing Wisconsin might offer…


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Patrick Nelson

I know, I know – I still haven’t LLUOI’d Zeke Martin yet.  But I have all these thoughts on Patrick Nelson, and it’s 12:06 am, and I’m still at work, and I need a break, and I’ve chosen to take that break by writing a bunch of words about our new safety.  And when I find some free time in October, I’ll write about Zeke. [Read more...]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Raphael Barr

I’m better now. I think I’m going to officially allow myself two low points per year. That was one, and I’ll save the other for a loss this fall. And it better not be Minnesota. We need to be 5-3 coming out of the Minnesota game, not 4-4. Man, that game just looks enormous from here. 5-7 vs. 6-6 might spin on that Minnesota game at home.

Now that I’m better, I can write the two LLUOI posts. Starting with Raphael Barr. First thing: when you Google “Raphael Barr” looking for film to watch, and you don’t type both r’s in his last name, meaning you do a Google search for “Raphael Bar”, the results come back Bar Refaeli. So I think I’m pretty much going to call Raphael Barr “Supermodel” this year.

Second thing: this scenario reminds me of Trevor Kanteman. Nearly exactly. Last year at this time, while looking at the Stone-Davis brothers at Pierce College, our coaching staff took note of Kanteman working out at tight end. And since we had a few scholarships open up when Darius Millines and Darrius Caldwell were released, we offered Kanteman as a 2014 recruit. Here he was, getting ready for his first year of Juco football (he had hurt his knee senior year of high school and hadn’t returned to football yet), and the next thing he knows, he’s off to Rantoul eight weeks later.

This scenario, to me, reads exactly the same way. Matt Domer doesn’t get past admissions. We already had a few open scholarships, and Domer going to Parkland opened another, so we immediately filled that roster spot with a junior college receiver who would be immediately eligible. This isn’t a Plan B kind of thing like we saw with Reon Dawson (Dawson flipped to Michigan before signing day; we added Jaylen Dunlap a few days later). This is more “we have spots available and still need help at certain positions – let’s get this kid in here.

Which means that we just entered 1998-land. Let me direct a question to The Seventeen for a second. What do you think of when you hear “1998 recruiting class”? Junior college receivers, right? Terrance Smalls, Connie Moore, Larry Davis, the other guy who I can’t for the life of me think of at this moment… that was the class that would be defined by the junior college receivers. And, to be honest, while we were all hoping for another Mike White scenario (the 1983 Rose Bowl team was built with California jucos), it didn’t pan out for Smalls, Moore, Davis, and the other guy.

So 2014 is now Take 3. Wide receivers Ryan Lankford, STEVEHULL, Miles Osei, and Spencer Harris all graduated, and now we’ve brought in Geronimo Allison, Tyrin Stone-Davis, and Raphael Barr as immediate impact jucos (plus Malik Turner and Dude K).  With a class this small, 2014 will kind of be defined by the success of those five receivers.  Actually, with Joe Fotu, Carroll Phillips, and Jihad Ward (I’ve now listed nearly half the class), the 2014 recruiting class will simply be defined by the success of the junior college receivers and defensive linemen.  There are other pieces there for the future (Allegretti, the linebackers, Chase Crouch, etc.), but this is now That Year We Brought In All Those Juco Linemen And Receivers.

And “all those” is a good thing.  If we’re honest, of Ward, Phillips, and Fotu, one of them is likely going to bust.  I’m not watching film and saying “he won’t make it” here, I’m just saying, using the averages across college football, some jucos flat-out bust.  With high school recruits you have five years to develop the player and maybe turn him into a contributor; with junior college players, some just bust and are gone in two years having not played very much.

So numbers are always good.  Bring in three jucos and you might get one immediate impact player, one solid contributor, and one bust.  The more players in the same class at the same position, the better chance at landing a possible star.

One other thing before film review: Because he only played one year of junior college football, Barr is a 4-years-to-play-3 player.  Which means that if Big Ten football is a bit overwhelming for him, we could actually redshirt him if we wanted and still get three years of service.  And that would give us a juco receiver in each class.  Martize Barr will be a senior this fall, Geronimo Allison will be a junior, Tyrin Stone-Davis comes in as a sophomore with three years of eligibility, and Raphael Barr would then be a redshirt who would slot into the class that graduates after the 2017 season.

Film: there’s not much, just his Hudl page, so I’ll just say these two things. 1) His high school film is linked on his Hudl page, and he looks so much better in his juco film.  Go watch them both – it’s two different receivers.  I can see why he didn’t have offers out of high school but added several after his first juco season.  The other thing I’ll say: he doesn’t look like an outside guy to me.  Maybe not a true slot guy like Dude K, but maybe he’s more of a flanker?  Looking at this season, I’m not sure where to slot TSD or The Supermodel yet, but I’d say Geronimo Allison and Justin Hardee are the split end (X) guys, Dude K is in the slot, and guys like Dionte Taylor and Martize Barr will battle it out at flanker (Z). Hmmmm…. maybe R. Barr does end up in the slot.

Tom Cruises.  This was a player who was available in June to play in August.  Sometimes that means you found a sleeper (remember when we added Mike Davis to the basketball team this late?), but other times it just means you’re taking a flyer on a guy because a spot opened up late.  In a scenario like that, I can’t hand out any more than one and one half Tom Cruises.


Football Recruiting Wish List

These are always such silly lists.  Recruiting changes by the hour, and dozens of new names will emerge between now and Signing Day, and, really, hitting on maybe 30% of these players would be a huge coup.

But that’s never stopped me before.  Going into the summer, here are the football players I would love to land.

[Read more...]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Andrew Davis

I like how news like this arrives these days. Some people have text alerts set up, or they get emails when a recruit picks Illinois. For me, I like to receive it… organically. Maybe I see it on Twitter. Maybe a friend texts me and says “things are really rolling now”. Maybe I’m browsing through a message board and I see it there. I kind of like how each one is different. [Read more...]