Big Recruiting Summer

It hit me yesterday that the next six months are so big for the basketball program.  The two (or three) players that John Groce lands this summer will define our trajectory.  Will we add “solid contributors” to the two four-stars we’ve already landed (DJ Williams and Aaron Jordan), or will we add superstars?

And the same goes for football.  [Read more...]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Jimmy Fitzgerald

The most important recruiting class in a very long time has begun.

I’ll start by telling you why, and then I’ll tell you what I know about Jimmy Fitzgerald, and then we’ll get to Tom Cruises.

The 2012 was a bit of a throwaway as it always is in the first year for any coaching staff.  You try to keep the guys the other coach had recruited, you have six weeks to find some recruits, and you have to do all of that without knowing any of the local high school coaches yet.  So you can’t really judge Tim Beckman’s recruiting based on that kind of class (although he did surprisingly well in landing future starters like Teko Powell and TJ Neal and Mason Monheim and others during those six weeks).

The 2013 class, then, was extremely important.  And Beckman/Golesh pulled in a decent haul.  Impact players like Bailey, Mosely, and Chunky, a several four-stars, and ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten – Rivals and ESPN had that class 7th, ahead of schools like Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin (Andersen throwaway transition class) in the Rivals rankings.  2014 was important, but is a small class + a “juco need” class (and adding jucos will never create a lot of rankings buzz).  We’re only adding ten high school players on Wednesday because we traded the need for future depth for the need for immediate depth (and because we only had 10 seniors last year.  That’s good for next year (really good when you consider some of the defensive linemen we landed), but probably not good for the long term development of the program.

Which means the 2015 class is probably up there with 2006 in terms of “we must land a solid class”.  I really do believe that the 2012 and 2013 class, as well as the jucos in the 2014 class, provide adequate Big Ten talent for the next two seasons, given the roster situation the Beckman’s coaching staff inherited.  We’re slowly getting to the point where the depth chart will be mostly upperclassmen.  But after those players graduate, with only 10 high school players in this class, we have to have depth built in behind them.  That’s all on this class.

And it’s off to a solid start.  3-star local QB Jimmy Fitzgerald is now on board (check out this link for Matt Wettersten’s interview with Fitzgerald on WCIA).  Let’s start with rankings.  It’s more than a year from when he can sign, so Scout and ESPN haven’t rated him yet, but Rivals has him as a 3-star and the #10 player in the state, and 24/7 has him as a 3-star and the #11 player in the state.  Considering that in the 2014, our highest-ranked in-state player was #20 on Rivals and #25 on 24/7, then yes, this is an improvement over the last class.  Landing those top 30 in-state players needs to be our lifeblood, so this is a good start.

(Note: he picked Illinois, so don’t expect him to stay at #10 in the state. By this time next year, he’s maybe #17 or something.  The 23rd rated player based on film review will pick Nebraska, and suddenly that player will find themselves at #10 and Fitzgerald will slide down.  It’s just how this works.  And I can’t blame the recruiting sites for handling things that way.  I’d do the same.)

When watching film on Fitzgerald, the thing that sticks out to me is putting air under the ball at the right times.  You know that pass play where three receivers drag right while the tight end, comes from the right side of the line and angles for a spot 15 yards down the left sideline?  Many QB’s try to zip that ball in there when the right call is to float it (the dragging receivers have vacated the corner and the safety, so it’s just a one-on-one with a linebacker).  Based on his junior film, Fitzgerald understands that you can float that pass a little bit and place it over the tight end’s shoulder. That’s the kind of thing Bill Cubit loves.

As far as arm strength, I’d say that the quarterback in this class (Chayce Crouch) has a much stronger arm.  Interestingly, Rivals rates Crouch the #23 quarterback in this class, and Rivals rates Fitzgerald the #23 quarterback in the 2015 class.  So looking down the road a bit, I’d say that we have a three year battle between Lunt and Bailey, and then in 2017, it’s redshirt junior Crouch vs. redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald vs. the quarterback in the 2016 class for the starting job.

The other thing that jumps off the film is that he looks pretty athletic.  Which is good not only for this offense, but also for that QB battle. I think Crouch is a one position player, but I think Fitzgerald could play several spots.  So if Crouch does win the job, we might see Fitzgerald at, say, tight end or something (like Matt LaCosse, who was also a high school quarterback).

OK, Tom Cruises.  This one is really straightforward for me.  A solid 3 Tom Cruises.  2.5 is the median, and this kid is a little better than the median to me.  The only way he could stretch that to a 3.5 Cruise would be to have film like 2014 RB recruit Matt Domer (I gave Domer 3.5 Cruises, right?).  And Fitzgerald’s film isn’t at that level.  So a solid, respectable three Cruises it is.

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Alex Golesh On Recruiting (Part II)

Part II of my conversation with tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh. Part I is here.

How do you find a kid like a Mason Monheim? I know you guys were recruiting him at your last place (Toledo). I don’t know why a school like, say, Ohio State wasn’t looking at him. He’s a solid Big Ten linebacker. And he’s a good kid, strong…

…strong academics, good family, football is important to him, tough. Yes.

Well, he’s not 6′-2″. He played running back in high school. He’s from a smaller program. He had a good junior year but not a great junior year. But he had a great senior year. So you truly would have had to see that kid in camp. You truly have to get to know the kid. And Orrville (Ohio) is a little bit off the beaten path. If he’s from Cleveland, he probably has a bunch of offers. If he’s from Columbus, probably a bunch of offers. He’s from Orrvile, and it’s a trip. You can find kids like that, but your coaches have to be willing to make the drive, learn everything about the kid, and make a decision.

Yeah, we were recruiting him at the old place. I was telling someone the other day that he’s the only kid I’ve ever had on two official visits at two different schools. But you have to be willing to work. Recruiting is – and there’s a ton of coaching clichés that I could say here – it really is the harder you work at it the better you’re going to be. And I’m not talking about just recruiting the kid but also evaluating the kid.

I think that’s how kids end up getting drafted from Division II schools. It’s making sure you see a kid’s frame and making sure you see how a kid can develop. I think some people can do it and some people can’t. Bill Belichick does it better than anyone in the business, and there’s some teams that just can’t get it right.

Where does your passion for recruiting come from? Because you’re obviously passionate about it. Where is that from?

I’m super competitive. To me – and it’s really me against me – I’m going to find gems. To me, I take so much pride in finding – and not that he’s arrived – but I take pride in finding (freshman tight end) Tyler White way more so than the kid that everybody knew about that I beat everybody on. I take a lot of pride when I watch film that my guys that I brought in are good kids that go to class and play hard. Even if they’re on defense. I peek at Jarrod Clements. I peek at Caleb Day when we’re watching offensive film because I want to see those kids.

I take a lot of pride in the relationships I built with those kids. I think it’s a lot of fun getting to know the kids. I know it’s cliché, but watching a kid graduate, how cool is that? And then getting invited to their wedding. And knowing that you were a reason why that kid is successful.

I enjoy it. To me, you can take two approaches to it. One, it’s a sales approach. It’s strictly business and we’re rollin’. Two is, if those kids care about you – if they know you care about them – it’s really easy. And honestly, I think recruiting is really, really easy. Your kids on your team are your best recruiters. Our job is to get them on campus and get them around our kids. Because if our kids are happy, then you have a chance to get a kid. And all you ask for is a chance. Then it’s like throwing darts. If you have a big enough pool, and our kids are happy, you have a chance.

We won two games last year. We made a lot of changes. We re-evaluated a lot of things we were doing. And I think that when we got some kids on campus, our kids said “the strength program is really good”. Our kids said “the academic support is really good”. And our kids said “Coach Golesh, what he’s telling you, he’s not lying. What Coach Beckman is telling you about family and treating you right and you getting a birthday cake on your birthday and you being taken care of by this training staff, he ain’t lying”.

You’d be amazed. Kids go to certain places and they’ll hear “that guy is lying to you”. Their own players are telling them that. I think that’s really underrated in recruiting – your own kids. And we have some go-to guys. I know I can put a kid with Matt LaCosse and we have a good shot to get the kid. And I know who not to put them with (laughs).

Let’s talk about Chunky. You said on signing day that it was a really long process with Jarrod Clements. You started recruiting him when he was elsewhere and built a relationship. Can you walk me through that? What’s that like for you – how you build that relationship. How does that work.

When those kids are young, they have to reach out to you. And that’s why I think being in a certain area is important. One, I knew his high school coach. He transferred schools – I knew his old high school coach, and I really knew his new high school coach. Every time I’d come into the school – we can’t talk to them when they’re younger – every time I’d come into the school he was happy to see a familiar face. Literally, it’s just being in the school and being seen. Getting the coaches trust, and getting the kid to see ‘man, he’s always here’. Whether he thinks I’m there to see him or not – whatever. But you’re always there.

One, we were his first offer elsewhere. So he always kind of felt like “those guys have always wanted me”. And that kid, as he was getting all these offers it was always like “hey, I was here – hey, I’m still here”. I think it’s just being around that school. That’s why it’s important that your coaches that recruit certain areas stay in those areas. Just hit those areas and constantly be there. In Ohio, Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati are critical for us. So I’m always there. If we have a Friday, and we’re playing in Columbus, I’m going to be in my area. In the winter, I’m going to be in my area. And it helps when you’re getting other kids from the area, because you’re always there to see those kids.

But Jarrod is a loyal kid. Comes from a good family that always taught him that loyalty is the most important thing. And Jarrod bought into that. Caleb Day was very similar to that too where those kids always felt loyal to us. Regardless of us going 2-10, regardless of staff changes, I know Coach Golesh and Coach Beckman are going to take care of me because they’ve been with me this whole time.

Jarrod was an interesting case because Jarrod committed – he felt loyal and didn’t care about anything else so he committed – and then he tore his ACL three weeks later. The first thing we told him was “if you do your rehab, you still have a scholarship” because he called crying. And when we said “you still have a scholarship”, it was done. With his parents it was done, with his coach it was done. You’d better believe I talked to the Physical Therapist and I talked to the Doctor who did the surgery. I told them “if he’s a minute late to his appointment, you let me know”. And he was never late. It really was an “I trust them because they trust me”.

But I think the biggest thing with those kids was being in those areas. It’s a little bit different than a kid that you just go sign just because you wanted to sign them so badly.

OK, last question. I saw your family photo that you posted on Twitter. You have red hair. Your wife has red hair. Your daughter has red hair. And you have a dog with red hair. Did you intentionally get a red-haired dog?

(laughing) Marlon – he’s an Irish Setter. No, the story there is that my wife, when we met, I was at Oklahoma State, she had an older Irish Setter. And she didn’t want to move him up north into the freezing cold. So he stayed with her family and I got her a little Irish Setter puppy.

But yes, when we walk around the neighborhood, people look at us like we’re a bunch of freaks.

Alex Golesh On Recruiting (Part I)

Next to my first sit-down with John Groce, this might be my favorite one-on-one interview that I’ve ever done. You know I’m kind of a football guy and a recruiting guy, so getting a chance to chat football recruiting with the recruiting coordinator was a treat.

But it wasn’t just that. Alex Golesh is an impressive guy. You know how you heard that Buddy Teevens got the Stanford job and you thought, “hey, wasn’t he our wide receivers coach when Ron Turner arrived?” OK, bad example, because Teevens flamed out at Stanford, but my point is this: I think you’re going to hear Alex Golesh’s name in one of those spots maybe 10 years from now. I imagine my thoughts after this interview are very similar to some Ohio State reporter who interviewed assistant coach John Groce eight years ago.

And about said interview: it’s 34 days old. In my last day in Rantoul, I sat down with tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh (OK, we stood) and talked mostly football recruiting for 20 minutes. I loved his insight so much that I decided to save the interview for this bye week. I felt like if I had posted it then, it would have been lost in all of the hubbub (hubbub?) of Rantoul, so I saved it for today.

I say all of that because my first question is going to sound very preseason-y. And that’s because I asked him that question in the preseason. I’ll stop talking and start transcribing.

This coaching staff has been through a full year. You come in, you take over, new roster, new recruiting areas, all of that. Does it feel like everything has now settled down? Last year obviously didn’t go like you wanted it to, but talk to me about how things might be settling down in the second year.

I think we’re getting more used to the expectations. Coach Beckman is coaching the coaches less in terms of field setup and individual drills and where we go and how we do things. I think you have more time now to really focus on the details.

It’s really similar, I think, to our first year at the previous place (Toledo), where the first year you’re learning everything. And I mean everything. For me as a recruiting coordinator, it’s who handles the hotels and the restaurants. From a football side, it’s ‘we need this equipment and that equipment’ and that’s before you ever get to scheme. So now you worry a lot less about all that because the people are now in place to handle all of that. And now you can handle more of the technique.

And, really, less evaluation, too. Individually, like with the tight end group, I know what these guys can do now. So it’s a lot less getting to know what they can do and a lot more how do we get them in positions to be successful. And I think that’s the same across the board.

From a recruiting standpoint, we have a really good idea now of our needs. Last year it wasn’t until the middle of September or the end of September that we said ‘holy smokes, we need some junior college guys at certain spots’. Now, this May we were able to say ‘we know we need some junior college guys’. Even in April we said ‘we know we need some wideouts’ (for 2014). So it’s a lot less of getting to know the guys and a lot more ‘OK, here’s our target areas, here’s where we need immediate help, here’s where we can use some developmental help’. And then targeting recruiting that same way.

For example, my tight end group. I have three upperclassmen, so I can bring in a developmental guy. A year from now (when the seniors are in their last season), I’m going to have no upperclassmen, so we need to bring in some immediate impact guys. And it’s the same at every position.

How do you approach that? I know you’re going to have a smaller recruiting class in 2014. I know these things work themselves out, some guys might not be here, and some guys transfer, but overall you’re probably going to have a small class next year because there’s only ten seniors. So how do you maybe approach a small class differently? Last year was max out with 25 players, this year might be ten less.

First off, offer all in-state guys that are good enough to play here and take them irregardless. Then go from there, basing it on position. Critical position needs first. Where are the seniors at? So critical position need this year: wideout. Critical need this year: linebacker. Critical need this year: defensive line. So you mass recruit those positions nationally. Is there a critical need at quarterback right now? No. So you can be a little more picky, a little more selective, and really just target three or four guys.

We have some guys on our board that are “takes” – that we’re going to take regardless. They’re mostly in-state guys, but they might be what we call “stars” – top-level, regardless-of-position takes. Other than that, though, you’re not going to stretch on a kid at certain spots.

So then, sometimes, if you’ve taken those in-state guys and you’ve taken those junior college wide receivers that fill a need, what’s that conversation like when you have, say, three guys you’ve offered at that position but you’ve filled that spot with other players?

If they’re a “take” guy, you keep recruiting them. I had a question yesterday – “what’s it like when guys decommit”. Well, everybody gets decommitments. USC gets decommitments, we get decommitments, the MAC schools get decommitments. You have to have your board – and this is a big Coach Beckman deal – you have to have your board in order. And then be honest with the kids. We have to always make sure we have the next kid ready.

Once you fill up, you fill up. You have to tell them ‘hey, I’m done – if something changes I’ll let you know’. It kind of goes back to the same deal. You keep recruiting the ones that have every offer, you slow down on the ones that you know are going to jump in, and then the ones that you want you keep recruiting really, really hard.

There’s certain positions where you don’t know. Tight end is one of them. Will we take another one? Will we not? We keep recruiting and we keep recruiting and we keep recruiting. There’s a lot of kids on senior film that will really impress you. (Freshman Tight End) Tyler White is a great example of that.

Marchie Murdock?

(Freshman WR) Marchie Murdock is that way. Really, (freshman WR) DJ Taylor is that way. You can get great players late. Most of the time they’re in Texas or Florida where the rosters may be a little bit deeper.

College football recruiting, I think, has changed dramatically, in the last five to eight years, to early commitments. It used to be that you would go into fall camp with five or six guys in your recruiting class for the next year. Evaluate through the fall, December/January visits, they sign in February.

Now, Michigan is filling out most of their class in May. Two part question: how do you approach that, and is it maybe an opportunity for a school that’s not a Michigan or not an Ohio State to maybe catch some guys who are maybe developing later in their high school careers?

One, you have to evaluate earlier. So your recruiting staffs have gotten bigger. We do spend more time evaluating early. It used to be that in January, you’d still be recruiting the current class. Now in January – really even December – you’re home-visiting the guys you need to see but the rest of the day you’re recruiting the younger players.

I think it’s forced you to evaluate more kids. Because now when you go see a game, you’re watching the young kids, too. So it’s forced you to make early decisions. And that comes down to ‘can guys evaluate?’. I think you end up taking less kids based on just size and speed and you truly are evaluating them.

You don’t necessarily want to be full at fall camp, in my opinion. You want to have some wiggle room. Because of transfers, or late junior college guys – you want to have a couple scholarships sitting there. Plus injuries – career ending injuries. You don’t want to be full.

Again, I think you take the “takes”, the stars, early. And the guys that you don’t have to have early you just don’t offer them. You have to constantly be talking about it. I think that’s what it comes down to. Constant communication. For example, our 2015 board is up. Is it full, no, but we have a really go idea of who our guys are in Illini Nation – in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky. In Illini Nation, we have a really good idea.

Now, at the really good programs – at the Mt. Carmels and the Bolingbrooks of the world – sophomores aren’t playing yet…

Yeah, I saw a top-250 list this summer for the 2015 class…

(finishing my thought) How do you know? How do you know?

Yes, how do you even know? These are sophomores who haven’t even played their junior year of high school yet and they’re already a four-star recruit? How do you even know that yet?

I think the great staffs ignore the rankings and truly evaluate. I take a lot of pride in that. To me, I’ll sign a two-star as fast as I’ll sign a four-star because I take a lot of pride in seeing him on film as a junior and seeing him play basketball or wrestle or swim – I don’t care, I want to see him compete. Play baseball, run track, spring ball – truly evaluate the kid.

The one thing that I think we miss a lot – Rivals, Scout, 24/7, ESPN combines – what I think a lot of that stuff doesn’t gauge is… how tough is the kid? How much does football mean to him? Is football really important to him? The great players that I’ve been around are not necessarily four stars.

And then academic piece here is the other thing. You have to make sure they fit your academic profile. Because they have to be able to go to school and be successful. And they have to get in to school.

I think there’s so much that goes into it that you have to try to truly take your time and evaluate. We (the staff) meet a lot. We meet a lot and rank the kids. And I’m talking 2015. Right now, I know who my top five tight ends are that I’m going after. And I’m in charge of the tight ends, just like Coach Ricker is in charge of the O-Line. They’re coming from different areas, but once they’re on the board, I decide who I want to take.

So we all want to get kids who are not necessarily five stars or four stars but that love football. All of the things that the stars don’t rank.

(Part II tomorrow)

Looks Like University Of Illinois: Geronimo Allison

First, let’s just talk about it. Yes, his first name is that of the famous Bedonkohe Apache leader from the 19th century. We’re the Illini. We kinda sorta had this controversy at one time over Chief Illiniwek. Maybe you heard about it.

So yes, there will be references to his name and the Chief and our history and our name and whether the “Fighting” refers to some no-longer-in-existence tribe or the soldiers in World War I. Frankly, I’m just hoping that it all becomes a national referendum on this.

OK, so let’s talk Wes and The Jucos. If Wes Lunt wins the starting quarterback position next year (and I say “if” because I think that people are still severely underestimating the unstoppable force that is Aaron Bailey), we will have brought in a lot of that offense this summer. Lunt transferred in, and then we added the #2 juco WR in the nation (Tyrin Stone-Davis) and now we added the #11 juco WR in the nation (Allison). With so many senior WR’s graduating (Lankford, Harris, Osei, Hull), it’s possible that the three leading receivers in 2014 will all be juco guys: Martize Barr (who will be a senior then), Stone-Davis, and Allison. Yeah, Justin Hardee might have something to say about that, but stay with me here. Wes and The Jucos.

And there’s a chance that Allison is the best of the three. Every downtrodden program in the country is trying to find sleepers. If you have no chance of landing the top kids because the top kids all want to play in the SEC, you have to be on the hunt for sleepers. And Allison might be just that.

He played a little bit with the varsity his freshman year in high school. His sophomore year… he was suspended because of academics. His junior year… he was suspended because of academics. Let’s just say that if you don’t play high school football before your senior year, you’re not going to get recruited.

Allison turned his academics around enough to get into junior college. Here’s an article from 2011 that discusses how he made his way from Spoto High School in Tampa to Iowa Western Community College:

Ineligible as a sophomore and junior, Allison signed with Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He’ll arrive as an A-B student, according to Spartans coach Dale Caparaso.

“He really turned it around academically,” Caparaso said.

Allison (6-foot-4, 180 pounds), a junior varsity call-up on Spoto’s playoff team in 2008, returned with a vengeance this past season. He led the Spartans with 26 catches for 567 yards and four TDs, adding 47 tackles and an interception on defense.

An obscure Caparaso connection helped him land in the Midwest. Iowa Western assistant Donnie Woods is a former offensive line standout at Pasco, where Caparaso coached from 2003-06.
“He and I missed each other when I went to Pasco by one year,” Caparaso said.

“He knew who I was, I knew who he was. He said he heard we had a receiver who had some academic issues. … He did a great job with Geronimo because Geronimo absolutely loves the guy.”

At Iowa Western, as a freshman, he found himself behind three sophomore receivers – Deon Long, a 5-star recruit headed to Maryland, Martize Barr, a 3-star recruit who you’ll get to know this fall, and Andrew Stone, who ended up at Iowa. Allison finished fourth on the team with 26 catches for 428 yards.

With Long, Barr, and Stone all gone, Allison just might have himself a year. Iowa Western won the Juco national title last year, and they continue to bring in FBS players who need help with their grades (like Illini 3-star defensive tackle commit Merrick Jackson, who is headed there this fall). They lost their quarterback to Kansas State, but if they can find a replacement, there’s a chance Allison puts up video game numbers this fall. For example, last year, Deon Long (5-star headed to Maryland) caught 100 balls for 1,626 yards and 25 touchdowns… in 12 games.

OK, maybe not those numbers, but there’s a good chance that Allison, in his first year unfettered by high school academic issues and college depth chart issues – this will really only be his third season playing organized football – will show that he’s a sleeper recruit that can finally show what he has. What he showed last year was good enough to earn offers from Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, and Illinois. What he shows this fall might be good enough to show that he can play big-time football.

There are risks, though, of course. This is a kid who had academic issues in high school and had to go to junior college, so making the jump from that to the University of Illinois is a large one. There are many examples of jucos we tried to bring in that couldn’t meet admission standards. And there’s a reason Kansas State is known as the juco factory, given that their admission standards are, um, how do I put this nicely… here, I’ll just quote from their website:

Any transfer student with a college grade point average of 2.0 GPA after completing 24 or more college credits will be admitted to K-State.

In case your wondering, for a junior college student to transfer into LAS at Illinois, they need between a 2.7 and a 3.2, but they also have to meet a certain other standards – national certification of the specific community college, review of coursework to eliminate certain non-transferrable credits, review of high school test scores, and on and on and on. It’s why our coaches over the years have responded to “why don’t we just bring in a bunch of jucos?” with “you have no idea how hard it is.”

So most of our jucos come pre-screened. Before we offer, we review their grades and their transcript (and their institution) to see if there’s a chance they’ll be admitted. Last year, we were six for six (in getting the junior college student athletes admitted). This year, here’s hoping we’re three for three.

Film: There’s not much out there – there usually isn’t for juco freshmen – but if you’d like a few HOLY CRAP moments, we can go back to his senior film in high school. Skip to the 1:00 mark and check out his punt returns on this video:

HOLY CRAP.

So now to Tom Cruises. Allison has all the marks of a solid sleeper, and he looks really fluid in and out of his cuts on film, but he’s still just that, a sleeper. Lots of potential, lots of signs he’s ready to show what he has after this long journey, but still, not there yet. Need to see it first. So I can’t go above three Tom Cruises. Until he catches 101 balls this fall.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois – Tyree Stone-Davis

(I have about 12 minutes to write a post about our new cornerback recruit. In my never-ending pursuit of efficient blogging, I will simply utilize another post I’ve written – say, the post I wrote about his identical twin brother – and cut a few corners.)

Meet Tyrin Tyree Stone-Davis. Or, as he will probably be known here and everywhere else for the next few seasons, TSD TSD2. I mean, seriously, we always abbreviate our players with hyphenated last names. Patrick Nixon-Youman was PNY. I even remember calling George McDonald-Ashford GMA. It’s just how we do. So meet TSD TSD2.

TSD TSD2 is a 3-star recruit on Rivals (5.6), a 4-star 2-star recruit on 24/7 Scout, and un-evaluated by ESPN and Scout 24/7. He had offers from San Diego State and Texas Tech State and Hawaii and San Diego State.

You’ve heard me discuss TSD TSD2 before. Well, kind of. This spring we landed a teammate of his – Trevor Kanteman – who will play tight end/h-back for us starting this fall. When discussing Kanteman, I said this:

Our coaches were at Pierce looking at another player just a month ago, saw (Kanteman) working out, offered him, and now he’s supposed to be on the roster this fall as a freshman (he never played at the Juco, so he transfers as a freshman with four years of eligibility).

That “other player”? Tyrin (or Tyree) Stone-Davis. I love it when a plan comes together.

Other things you need to know about TSD TSD2: he’s an identical twin. He and his brother Tyree Tyrin played high school football in Philadelphia at Jules Mastbaum Technical High School (here’s a fun article about Tyrin and Tyree back in high school). They had some college interest (the article mentions Temple and Rutgers), but both wound up at Pierce Community College in Los Angeles (if you want a shot at D-1 some day, you go to juco in California).

Tyree Tyrin is on the roster at Pierce as well, and we’ve offered him as a cornerback wide receiver, as has Hawaii, San Diego State, Texas State Tech, and others. Wait, what happens if we have TWO TSD’s? Better question: what happens if TSD2 TSD1 goes to Texas State and brother covers brother when we play them in 2014? These are all good questions I’m asking.

Film review: love really like it. Go to his Hudl page (thanks Ian me) and check out his highlights from last year. For a guy listed at 6′-3″, he’s very, very fluid. His speed is a bit deceiving here – they might be juco kids, but some of those cornerbacks wide receivers he’s blowing past covering aren’t the best competition. Still, very impressive tape. I can see why the folks at 24/7 Rivals gave him four three stars and a rating of 91 5.6 after seeing that film.

Why didn’t he have bigger offers? Well, most top-end programs stay away from most all juco kids. They see their scholarships as precious, and they’d much rather offer a kid they can develop for four or five years than offer a kid they’ll only have for two. As such, a lot of the big-time programs wait until after junior college kids have finished their sophomore years before deciding whether they’re worth an offer. Their loss, our gain (er, kind of – I’d still swap places with them in a millisecond).

Because of that, when a kid looks this good on film, I’m a little bit concerned that he’ll get more offers during the fall and maybe re-evaluate his position. But I’m an Illinois football fan – I’m always worried about that. Comes with the territory.

OK, so Tom Cruises. Wes Lunt got 4.5 Tom Cruises, but he’s a 4-star quarterback who started at Oklahoma State as a freshman and then transferred to Illinois. Next highest recruit on ALE in this class is Matt Domer TSD1, who I gave 3.5 stars. And I really liked Domer TSD1. Do I rank TSD TSD2 higher than Domer TSD1? Nah, can’t do it. I’m excited about both and can’t wait to see him join Lunt and Bailey Mosely and Day.

3.5 3 Tom Cruises it is. Get an offer from Oregon this fall, consider it, but turn them down to enroll at Illinois and I’ll give you four three point five.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois: Tyrin Stone-Davis

There’s a word I’m looking for here. It’s a business buzzword, but I can’t grab it from the tip of my tongue. It’s like, when everything comes together. Everything fits together well. Harmony? No, that’s not – wait, harmonic convergence? Something like that. When everything happens to fit together well. Is it “synergy”? Maybe. I can’t even remember why I was trying to remember this word.

Here’s why I’m searching for it. In 1988, we brought in the top junior college wide receiver in the nation. Some kid named Mike Bellamy. We were 4-7 the year before and had a new coach, so how were we able to attract the top juco wide receiver in the nation? Well, we had this strong-armed quarterback who had transferred in from Purdue, and our coaches took to the junior colleges to find immediate receiver help for this Jeff George kid. Bellamy was the perfect fit, and, combined with George, revitalized our offense and helped lead us to back to back bowls.

So when Wes Lunt transfers to Illinois… and one Mike Bellamy, now our WR coach, lands the #2 Juco wide receiver in the nation to join up with our strong-armed transfer QB… harmony. Synergy. Harmonic convergence. Awesomeness.

Meet Tyrin Stone-Davis. Or, as he will probably be known here and everywhere else for the next few seasons, TSD. I mean, seriously, we always abbreviate our players with hyphenated last names. Patrick Nixon-Youman was PNY. I even remember calling George McDonald-Ashford GMA. It’s just how we do. So meet TSD.

TSD is a 3-star recruit on Rivals (5.6), a 4-star recruit on 24/7, and un-evaluated by ESPN and Scout. He had offers from San Diego State and Texas Tech and interest from Oregon, West Virginia, and others. Some schools wanted to see him play more this fall before offering – he only had 20 catches last fall as a freshman at a junior college that had receivers and tight ends going to USC, Miami (FL), and Arizona State (12 division I players in all). We didn’t wait, pursued hard, and got the verbal.

You’ve heard me discuss TSD before. Well, kind of. This spring we landed a teammate of his – Trevor Kanteman – who will play tight end/h-back for us starting this fall. When discussing Kanteman, I said this:

Our coaches were at Pierce looking at another player just a month ago, saw (Kanteman) working out, offered him, and now he’s supposed to be on the roster this fall as a freshman (he never played at the Juco, so he transfers as a freshman with four years of eligibility).

That “other player”? Tyrin Stone-Davis. I love it when a plan comes together.

Other things you need to know about TSD: he’s an identical twin. He and his brother Tyree played high school football in Philadelphia at Jules Mastbaum Technical High School (here’s a fun article about Tyrin and Tyree back in high school). They had some college interest (the article mentions Temple and Rutgers), but both wound up at Pierce Community College in Los Angeles (if you want a shot at D-1 some day, you go to juco in California).

Tyree is on the roster at Pierce as well, and we’ve offered him as a cornerback, as has Hawaii, San Diego State, Texas State, and others. Wait, what happens if we have TWO TSD’s? Better question: what happens if TSD2 goes to Texas State and brother covers brother when we play them in 2014? These are all good questions I’m asking.

Film review: love it. Go to his Hudl page (thanks Ian) and check out his highlights from last year. For a guy listed at 6′-3″, he’s very, very fluid. His speed is a bit deceiving here – they might be juco kids, but some of those cornerbacks he’s blowing past aren’t the best competition. Still, very impressive tape. I can see why the folks at 24/7 gave him four stars and a rating of 91 after seeing that film.

Why didn’t he have bigger offers? Well, most top-end programs stay away from most all juco kids. They see their scholarships as precious, and they’d much rather offer a kid they can develop for four or five years than offer a kid they’ll only have for two. As such, a lot of the big-time programs wait until after junior college kids have finished their sophomore years before deciding whether they’re worth an offer. Their loss, our gain (er, kind of – I’d still swap places with them in a millisecond).

Because of that, when a kid looks this good on film, I’m a little bit concerned that he’ll get more offers during the fall and maybe re-evaluate his position. But I’m an Illinois football fan – I’m always worried about that. Comes with the territory.

OK, so Tom Cruises. Wes Lunt got 4.5 Tom Cruises, but he’s a 4-star quarterback who started at Oklahoma State as a freshman and then transferred to Illinois. Next highest recruit on ALE in this class is Matt Domer, who I gave 3.5 stars. And I really liked Domer. Do I rank TSD higher than Domer? Nah, can’t do it. I’m equally excited about both and can’t wait to see them join Lunt and Bailey.

3.5 Tom Cruises it is. Get an offer from Oregon this fall, consider it, but turn them down to enroll at Illinois and I’ll give you four.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois – Julian Hylton

In that scene in Risky Business, at that very moment, Tom Cruise says the words “Looks like University of Illinois”.  He finds out he’s “just not Ivy League material”, Rebecca De Mornay asks how he’s doing, and he stands up, tosses his arms back, and says “Looks like University of Illinois”.

OK, I probably won’t explain that again.  At least not until someone asks again, and then I’ll get worried that nobody gets it and I’m just That Guy Who Posts Tom Cruise Pics On His Illini Blog and write yet another explanation.

To our latest recruit. Julian Hylton is a project. He’s probably the very definition of a project recruit. Let’s go through what we know:

He has no other BCS conference offers.
His only other FBS offers were Army and NIU
He plays running back in high school and runs track.
We saw him run at our camp and figured he might be able to play corner some day, so we offered.

Yep, 100% a project recruit.

Sometimes those work out. There’s this 2-star high school defensive back named Brandon Lloyd that we though might make a good wide receiver, and that worked out OK. And many times they don’t (Ean Days was the last little-recruited tailback we tried to make a defensive back – he’s now a fullback at Georgia Southern). We’ve also tried Fritz Rock at defensive back (he’s back to receiver), tried LaKeith Walls at safety (he’s back to running back), and are currently trying Jeremey Whitlow at DB.

My point: sometimes you get lucky. Walt Aikens as a 2-star high school athlete who we thought might be able to play safety, and he showed a lot of potential as a freshman, but he was eventually kicked off the team before we could find out if our project paid off.

So a recruit like this, to me, is almost impossible to read. There’s nothing concrete to go on. Watch his film? His film is all him playing running back. From something like that, you really have no idea if he will be able to play corner. Justin Green could do it (switch from RB to CB), but Justin Green was a 4-star, top-100 athlete who flipped to us from Ohio State. When you try a project like this with a kid who doesn’t have any other BCS-conference offers, well, I’d say there’s a 15-20% success rate.  (And when you’ve lost 14 consecutive conference games and many kids laugh when they get your recruiting letter, well, you have to gamble on 15-20% success rates).

This doesn’t mean all is lost, though.  This is a track kid, and you can never have enough speed on your team.  Even if he never makes it as a cornerback, there’s still wide receiver or safety.  Or maybe you bulk up his 6′-1″ frame and make him an outside linebacker.  Sometimes, you never know how a kid is going to develop as he continues to grow.  Rahkeem Smith went from linebacker to fullback to defensive tackle.  We’ve had players go from safety to linebacker to defensive line.  You recruit athletes, you put them in your strength program, and then you see how you might use them down the road.  It’s the whole reason Rivals and Scout and others use “ATH” as a distinction on recruiting lists.  “ATH” means “this kid doesn’t really have a position, but football teams can use size + speed anywhere”.

The best thing I read about Hylton was from a Rivals national guy (it’s premium, so I can’t link, nor will I quote – it’s cheap, just go subscribe).  More or less, he pointed out Hylton on a list of players at a Chicagoland camp and wondered why he didn’t have more offers given his speed.  Those are the kinds of things I like to read.  A 6′-1″ guy with speed – lets find him a spot.

But his offer lists and his recent camp visits (he camped at Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, and Nebraska, and we were the only school to watch his camp performance and then offer a scholarship) prevent me from going very high on the Tom Cruises.  He’s not only a project – he’s a project that Nebraska, Northwestern, and Indiana didn’t feel like taking on.

Plus, there’s no film.  There’s film of him running the ball (he’s OK, but not Big Ten material), but there’s no film where you can watch his defensive instincts.  Can’t even see if he can hip flip.

So it’s off to the lab with Hylton.  A certain redshirt, 3 years to learn how to play defense, and then in the fall of 2017 we’ll see if we have a redshirt junior cornerback on our hands.  I’d love to see it, but for now, can only give one and a half Tom Cruises.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois: Matt Domer

Now that’s more like it.

A friend asked me last week what would bring me out of my football recruiting funk, and I said “Matt Domer”.  I knew he was visiting yesterday and today, and I knew he had visits set up with Indiana, Kansas, and Syracuse before he’d make his decision, so I placed all of my hope in “but if we can land Domer…”

And now we landed Domer.  First off, it needs to be said.  After losing Chicago Mt. Carmel guys like Steven Filer to Notre Dame over the years, it is pleasing to me that a kid named DOMER picked Illinois.  Yeah, I know he didn’t have a Notre Dame offer – not my point.  I just enjoy “Domer to Illinois”.

I have five thoughts on Domer.  These are those thoughts.  Numbered 1 through 5.  1 is first.

1) This was the tailback I wanted

After we lost out on Justin Jackson to a certain purple school I can’t even bring myself to say since we’re talking about a 4-star running back and in no way, shape or form should a 4-star running back choose to play his college football in the most desolate stadium in all of BCS football, I’ve focused on Domer.  We need a tailback in this class, and with our top options gone (hi there, Mikale Wilbon going to Vandy), Domer was my guy.

I saw Doug Buschon from Rivals at the St. Louis Illini Caravan luncheon, and that was my first question for him when our conversation turned to recruiting: do we have a shot at Domer?  I know that he had named Cincy his leader, and then Boston College seemed like the favorite, and then he listed Illinois, Kansas, Indiana, and Syracuse as his finalists.

He was the guy I wanted because…

2) He fits this offense

I said this just a few posts back, but it bears repeating.  In the Beatty/Gonzales offense, sideline-to-sideline guys like Josh Ferguson and Devin Church had the best chance at success.  In the Cubit offense, after what I saw from Donovonn Young this spring, I think north-south guys will be all the rage, which is a good thing for Young, Dami Ayoola, and… Matt Domer.

With Young a junior and Ayoola a sophomore, it’s important that we add a tailback with some power in this class. Did I mention that Domer was the one I wanted in that role?  And now he’s ours.  And that makes me happy.

3) Check the film

No, seriously, check out his film.  My favorite part: 1:50 or so when he’s cornered at the sideline by the kicker but he runs him over anyway.

4) Mt. Carmel kid

I was quite disappointed when we lost out on Enoch Smith Jr. (Michigan State) this spring.  Mt. Carmel consistently cranks out solid talent, and I’d love to get more of them headed to Champaign.  Since we missed on Filer we’ve added, let’s see, Glenn Foster and Vontrell Williams.  Feels like I’m missing someone.  No, maybe that’s it.

So getting a kid from Mt. Carmel is always a good thing (especially when Syracuse was playing the “Mt. Carmel = Syracuse” Donovonn McNabb angle with this kid).  Our last two recruits were from SHG in Springfield and Mt. Carmel in Chicago.  And we’ve added kids from Bolingbrook and WWS in recent years.  Time to get involved at Lombard Montini and Crete-Monee.

5) He’s our ceiling right now

I always take the temperature of the current recruiting environment, and right now, mid-to-high 3-star recruits are about the ceiling.  Until we show we can put some wins together, this class probably isn’t going to pull in any 4-stars.

So when you’re down to battling Boston College, Cincy, Indiana, Syracuse, and Kansas for recruits, you MUST win those battles.  The top programs are fighting for the top recruits.  The Boston Colleges and the Syracuses are fighting for Matt Domers.  If we want to step on them to climb to the next rung, we have to land the Domers.

And we landed the Domer.  And I like his film and think he’s a good fit.  So I’m giving him three and one half Tom Cruises.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois: Malik Turner

I’m better now. Went through my little football recruiting vacillation exercise yesterday, and now I’m good. Clear eyes. Full heart. Probably gonna lose.

So now I can give Malik Turner a true LLUOI. Turner, a 6′-2″ wide receiver from Sacred Heart Griffin in Springfield, gave us a verbal commitment on Monday. He’s the 7th member of this class, and the second wide receiver after Dude K. And we need wide receivers.

The best part about this is probably his high school. Or, more specifically, his high school coach’s last name. Football in the Springfield area is all about the Leonards. Ken, at SHG, and his son Derek at Rochester. And if you’ve been around Illini football message boards in the last 10 years (yes, they exist), you’ve undoubtedly heard “so do the Leonards hate Illinois?”

At Rochester, just in the last few years, Sean Robinson went to Purdue, and Riley McMinn picked Iowa, and Wes Lunt went to Oklahoma State, and Garret Dooley picked Wisconsin. I hear one of those guys recently transferred – any idea which school he picked?

Sacred Heart Griffin was much of the same. Ryan Klachko picked Nebraska (before transferring to Illinois, sustaining multiple concussions, and getting a medical waiver to retire from football, all in a few short months). Marlandez Harris went to Indiana. Leonard Hubbard picked Wisconsin. Remember Illini-killer Eric Peterman at Northwestern? Sacred Heart Griffin. I think you have to go back to Mike McGee in the 90′s to find an SHG kid at Illinois (well, there was walkon Alex Reavy, but he never found the field).

During the Lunt process, Derek Leonard (at Rochester) made several comments about how Tim Beckman had really made recruiting Springfield a priority. He compared Beckman to “the former coaching staff” and then talked about what a great job TB’s staff had done in reaching out. And I remember similar comments from Ken Leonard when Ryan Klachko transferred to Illinois last August (of the “this staff has done a great job reaching out”, not the “former coaching staff” stuff.)

That paid off with Lunt. And now it pays off with Malik Turner. I first heard of this kid when someone tweeted me last winter from a SHG basketball game, saying that Billy Gonzales was at the game watching Turner play hoops. I did a little research back then, and I remember two things sticking out. 1) The kid is a great athlete – best player on the football team, best player on the basketball team, could pick up a tennis racket tomorrow and be the best player in a few weeks. Just a natural athlete. And 2) he was often injured.

Sometimes that’s a good thing (many times when you find a sleeper recruit, it’s because he was injured and other schools just didn’t give him a look because there wasn’t much film *cough* Donovonn Young *cough*). Sometimes that’s a bad thing – if a kid catches the injury bug in high school it sticks with him in college.

For Turner, it’s left him with a 2-star ranking on Rivals and only one offer from a BCS conference school – us. Let’s be honest, in the last 15 years, I’d say maybe 15% of the 2-star kids we recruit ever contribute significantly. Yes, Jon Asamoah and even Brandon Lloyd were 2-star recruits, and they both have long NFL careers. But for every one of those, statistically, there’s 8 or 9 guys who didn’t work out.

Here’s the 2-star recruits in the 2005 class:

Will Bergen
Eric Block
Immanuel Chu
William Davis
Kyle Hudson
Greg McClendon
Michael Noboloty
Rodney Pittman
Trevor Scott
Tremayne Walker
Sirod Williams

Of those, only four ever started a game (Block, Hudson, Pittman, and Williams), and none were really multi-year starters. Sure, there’s some nice moments in there – Eric Block filling in for an injured Martin O’Donnell on The Drive at the end of the Ohio State game, Rodney Pittman making a huge 3rd down tackle against Iowa in 2008 leading to our last minute field goal win – but for the most part, statistically, 2-stars don’t have a long history of working out.

And that’s how I mostly look at recruiting.  4-stars have around a 70% chance of contributing in a big way.  2-stars have a 15% chance.  Walkons 5%.  Three-stars somewhere in the middle.  So if you want to increase your chances of having a solid player at all 22 positions, recruit more highly ranked kids.

There are other factors, of course.  Systems and experience and such.  Jay Prosch went from solid contributor in Petrino’s offense to not even having a role in Beatty/Gonzales’ offense had he stayed (my guess – he would have ended up at defensive tackle).  You have to recruit certain players for certain roles on your offense/defense.  Find a way to perfect that (Wisconsin, Iowa, it-will-make-me-puke-but Northwestern), and you don’t have to recruit top-end guys.  You can improve each of those percentages above by perfecting your system and implementation.

Still, overall, Alabama is Alabama because of 5-stars and Indiana is Indiana because of 2-stars.  That’s just how it works in every athletic competition since the beginning of time.

OK, to the Tom Cruises.  I’m gonna go with 2.5 Tom Cruises for Turner.  His offer lists and 2-star rating on Rivals (3-stars on Scout) say he should be around a two, but I’m going to add .25 for scheme fit (Cubit wants taller receivers, and that’s what Turner is), and .25 for the injuries (if healthy, this kid might have put up big high school/camp numbers and had several looks).  I considered adding an extra .25 just because he’s a wide receiver, and we need four in this class.  But I can’t do it.  Do never mess with the Tom Cruising process.

Malik Turner. 2.5 Tom Cruises.  Now please be a stunning surprise like that 2-star receiver we landed from Kansas City named Brandon Lloyd.

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