Signing Day Summary – 2014

Five years. Five years ago I wrote about Terry Hawthorne, Justin Green, Akeem Spence and Eric Watts, and ALionEye.com was launched. So happy birthday to ALE (er, kind of). The blog can finally start kindergarten this year.

For this post, I want to start with some thoughts about college football recruiting in general. Maybe a how-to before we get into the what. For starters, I live by the 6.54 rule. I need to trademark it some day. The 6.54 rule is this:

Most college fans, I think, understand college basketball recruiting better than they understand college football recruiting. There are about 100 really good players every year, the rest is a crapshoot, so landing as many of those top-100 players as you can probably means you’ll have a pretty good team. There are other factors, of course, but that’s the general rule.

Football is completely different. There are 85 scholarship players instead of 13. There are 22 starters and several specialists like kickers and return men, versus five starters and maybe eight or nine guys who play in basketball. My first “rule” I developed was a ratio based on that – starters. Then I moved to a scholarship ratio. 85 / 13 = 6.54

I apply that ratio like this. Generally, in basketball, if you land the #35 player in the country, you’re getting a really good player. For football, take that number times 6.54, which means if you land the 229th best player in the country, that’s pretty much the same as landing the 35th best basketball player. (Recruiting is an inexact science, of course – a top-10 guy can bust and a player ranked #300 can get picked in the first round of the draft. So I generally look at that in terms of percentages. Land the #3 basketball player and there’s a 97% chance he’ll be great. Land the #152 player and there’s maybe a 44% chance.)

So I’ve never understood why sites like Rivals and Scout rank 20-25 five-stars in basketball and only 25-30 five-stars in football. Every team football needs to find 44 guys for the depth chart, so wouldn’t it follow that if Rivals ranks 25 five-stars, 75 four-stars, and everyone else as three-stars in basketball that they would rank 160 five-stars and 490 four-stars for football? They do seem to rank around 300 players as four-stars now, but I’ve never understood why five-star is limited to just 25 or so players. Basketball teams go into a recruiting year needing to land a big and a point guard; football teams go into recruiting really needing a tailback, two guards, a couple wide receivers, three defensive linemen, a linebacker, two safeties, and a kicker. So if each position is important, why not rank appropriate number of players at power forward and outside linebacker?

There’s also some Follow The Money going on here. These sites make money from subscriptions (sounds familiar), and I’d guess the majority of those subscriptions are for access to recruiting information. I’d also guess that the vast majority of those subscriptions come from the Southeastern part of the United States. It’s where high school and college football is king, it’s where the majority of NFL players grew up, so it’s where fans will pay $100 per year to get all of the recruiting information. So if that’s your base consumer, it would be idiotic not to cater to them. Players going to SEC schools will always get a little boost. I’d do the same thing in their position.

Consider the case of Chance Stewart, a quarterback we offered in the 2014 class. He was a 4-star recruit who wanted to stay and play for his local school, so he picked Western Michigan. Which meant his fourth star was pretty much immediately revoked. Film and camp viewings say four-star talent; school choice says otherwise, so take away his fourth star and give it to someone else. Likely someone going to Texas. That’s just how the game works. And again, I don’t blame them one bit.

Because of all of this, and because I am an Illinois fan, I try to factor all of this in when evaluating recruiting classes. If a player picks Illinois, especially if they pick Illinois early, they have likely maxed out their star rating. That’s just how it works. It’s the same with Northwestern and Indiana and Wake Forest and Iowa State and dozens of other schools. There aren’t many post-verbal boosts for a player selecting a school outside of, say, the top 35 programs in the country. And if there is a boost, it’s like Chunky last year. He verballed to Illinois and then had a fantastic camp in front of a lot of scouts, so they bumped him… to the highest rated 3-star defensive lineman (every other DL in front of him was a four-star) and the highest rated 3-star in Ohio (every other Ohio player ranked higher was a four-star). They save the fourth star for the other schools.

So consider the case of Nick Allegretti. He picked Illinois on March 11th of last year, and at the time, Cincinnati was his only other BCS offer. He has, in my estimation, the best film of any Illini lineman in the last five years. I think he’s a monster. I have him redshirting and then starting for four seasons at center.

And I wasn’t the only one who saw his film this way. The top 200 or so high school football players will get an invite to the US Army All American Bowl or the Under Armor All American Game (200 / 6.54 = 30.6, so consider these players like top-30 basketball players). And Allegretti was one of five players from Illinois to get an Army Bowl invite. Even Rivals national guys agree with me: this kid looks the part of a Big Ten offensive lineman. So why is he only a three-star? Why is he supposedly only the 20th best player in the state per Rivals? Pretty much only because he picked Illinois.

I used to get angry at this, but now I just factor it in. Again, I’m not going for some grand conspiracy theory here. I’m not going to tell you that this is the 3rd best class in the Big Ten but it’s ranked 11th because all of our players are criminally underrated. It probably is the 11th best class.

I’m saying all of this to lay some groundwork. Every year, when I do this breakdown, I try my best to wade through all of that. I try to find the guys who are criminally underrated. And I always do a category of “guys I’m just not that excited about, and I’m not sure why”. I watch the film, I review offers, I read articles, I read camp breakdowns from nine months ago, and I try to make a call on each player independent of their star rating. Because stars don’t matter. Tom Cruises do.

One more thing before, you know, actually breaking down the class. Let’s rank them like we did last year.

Here’s how I do that. I go through the player rankings for Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 24/7, and I see how they rank each one of our players. I then put those on a list, from first to last. For running back Matt Domer, Rivals has him as the 6th best player in this class, Scout has him 3rd, ESPN 7th, 24/7 6th. 6 + 3 + 7 + 6 = 22, which means he’s the fifth highest rated player in this class.

So, from highest-regarded to lowest, here’s the point totals for this class when I do that:

1. Jihad Ward (3rd, 1st, 1st, and 1st) – 6
2. Tyrin Stone-Davis – 14
3. Geronimo Allison – 16
4. Chayce Crouch – 20
5. Matt Domer – 22
6. Nick Allegretti – 23
7. Tito Odenigbo – 29
8. Mikey Dudek – 30
9. Malik Turner – 44
9. Julian Hylton – 44
11. Carroll Phillips – 46
12. Henry McGrew – 49
12. Austin Roberts – 49
14. Joe Fotu – 51
14. Peter Cvijanovic – 51
16. Tre Watson – 52
17. Chris James – 66

A few notes on this list:

  • I didn’t include Jeff George Jr. – he’ll be a greyshirt recruit, which means he’s part of next year’s class.
  • I didn’t include Paul James, either, because I wrote about him extensively in last year’s Signing Day breakdown. This class isn’t much on paper, but when you add Paul James, Dami Ayoola, and Wes Lunt, it suddenly looks a lot different.
  • Tyree Stone-Davis, if he was still on this list, would have been 6th. We replaced him with Chris James yesterday, who checks in at #17.
  • Nick Allegretti would have been the clear #2 to Jihad’s #1, but his ESPN ranking drags him down to 6th. Allegretti is the highest ranked recruit on Rivals, is second on Scout, fourth on 24/7… and 16th out of 17 on ESPN. Throw out the Russian judge and he’d be #2.
  • Just like the English Premier League standings right now, there’s a clear line right in the center. Haves and have-nots. 1 (Ward) through 8 (Dude K) all had fairly consistent top-of-the-class rankings. From 9 on down the rankings were all over the place. I think there are some things that can be read into that.
  • The Asamoah Award is so difficult now. I give that award each year to the two-star recruit who I think is the true sleeper in the class. And when I first gave it to Jon Asamoah in 2006, there were eight other two-star recruits to choose from. Now that the scouting services will give three stars to just about everyone, the Asamoah Award has to go to someone ranked lower in the class. If I had to pick someone just based on being a consensus two-star, Chris James would be my only option.
  • Could this class BE any more juco-dependent? The top three players in the class not only answer our two biggest needs in the 2014 class (pass rush and pass catching), they do so as instant impact players. We go as they go next year.

OK, let’s get to the actual breaking down. In the past, I’ve developed this system where I give you the player, their other offers, and their star ratings on all the services, but then I saw others copying that method so I don’t want to do that anymore. Now I want to do something different. So what I think I’ll do this year is this: ramble on about everything I know about each player. Because I write a breakdown every time one of them signs, and I watch all of their film, and I study what others are saying about them, so why not just write about what I think they bring to the team? In the same categories as the last five of these breakdowns, of course. Ready go.

Instant Impact Players

Jihad Ward
Defensive End, Global Institute of Technology, New York, New York.

Ever stood in a room full of football players? Like, you go to some event at some bar and there’s five Bears players there and you’re standing around thinking “these dudes are just over-sized human beings”? Their hands are huge, their shoulders are twice as wide as yours, and you’re wondering why you feel so small? (“Joey, you ever hang around a gymnasium…”)

That’s Jihad Ward. He might not know a single thing about football, and he might fall over when he tries to take three steps, but some NFL team would bring him to camp tomorrow just because he’s tall and strong and fast. He started as a wide receiver, went to Juco, grew to 300 lbs without losing his speed, and now he’s this giant manchild with a long reach and a stride that you just can’t teach. 24/7 rates him as a four-star and the #6 Juco player in the country. Scout has him as our only four-star in this class. He has NFL potential. One of those guys who could be a defensive end in college and then start at offensive tackle for an NFL team some day. When he walks into a room, everyone already knows he’s a football player.

The one downside (there’s always a downside): he’s raw. He arrived at his juco as a wide receiver, so he probably doesn’t know very much at all about playing defensive end or tackle. Ideally, if we were a Florida State or an Auburn, we’d redshirt him and teach him a position so he could dominate for two years instead of having a work-in-progress year and a dominating year. But we don’t have that luxury. He has to play the first series against Youngstown State on August 30th. Hope he’s a quick study.

Nick Allegretti
Center, Lincoln Way East High School, Frankfort, Illinois

I already talked about him a bunch up above. When I watch his film, I think he’s a four-year Big Ten starter. I totally get why the Army All American Bowl offered him a spot even though he’s 20th to 25th in his own state rankings. Go watch that film. He looks like the perfect Big Ten offensive lineman. Watch the plays against Bolingbrook – he’s dominating college bound defensive linemen.

He probably has a 5% chance of hitting all the goals I have for him, but I’m setting it there anyway. Put simply, he need to be a future All Big Ten lineman.

Geronimo Allison
Wide Receiver, Iowa Western Community College

As an Illini fan, I don’t very often get the thrill of hoping for a certain recruit and then hearing that he picked Illinois. I went into the summer with my sights set on two juco receivers that I wanted to land: Eric Lauderdale (picked Arizona State) and Geronimo Allison. (And instead of getting Lauderdale, we got TSD, who is ranked one spot higher than him on the 24/7 WR list).

He’s tall, he’s strong, he’s fast – I think he’s the ideal recruit for this class. We need receiver help, and I think he can step in immediately. Tyrin Stone-Davis is ranked higher on most lists, which is why he comes out as #2 on the list above while Allison is #3, but put me down for G-Mo. In my mind, there’s a very good chance he could be our leading receiver this fall.

Great Gets

Tyrin Stone-Davis
Wide Receiver, Pierce Community College, Woodland Hills, California

So I guess he’s just going to be TSD after all (his brother didn’t make it in to school and didn’t sign today, so it looks like Tyrin will be the only Stone-Davis joining the Illini program).

Alex Golesh mentioned after they signed that the staff thought that Allison and TSD were two of the top 10 or so receivers in the country, so to land two of them made the staff giddy. Again, you can never just build a class with jucos – they graduate in two years, and then what do you do? – but for the needs of this team, G-Mo and TSD are nearly perfect.

TSD didn’t play this fall at his juco so to retain a year of eligibility. And even though he arrived in December, he didn’t clear admissions and has some work to do in the classroom before enrolling in June. So with him arriving as a sophomore, having not played in a year, without the benefit of spring football and learning the offense, I’m even more of a G-MO >>>> TSD guy. At least for 2014. But if he does make it in this summer, look for him to maybe break out in 2015 and then be our go-to guy in 2016.

Matt Domer
Running Back, Mt. Carmel High School, Chicago, Illinois

Here’s another player I was thrilled to land. I was in a bit of a recruiting funk back in May/June – I think I even wrote a post about it – and a friend asked me to name a player that would bring me out of that funk. I picked Domer. We had missed out on the one running back I wanted in this class – Justin Jackson, who picked Northwestern of all schools (he’s a stud and will dominate there) – and I picked Domer as the guy we just had to have. His film made him look like the perfect tailback for this offense. So landing him was a great get. I think he’s perfectly suited to be a feature tailback in this offense. Just the right combo of size and speed.

And he comes from a great high school program, which doesn’t hurt. You know how will Kendrick Nunn make a “basketball IQ” play – maybe it’s a pass, maybe it’s a steal – and you realize that he’s been playing high-level basketball at Simeon? That’s how I feel about landing a guy like Domer from Mt. Carmel. I think he’ll be ready to play sooner rather than later.

Scout has him as the #36 tailback nationally; Rivals has him as #49. I’d put him a little higher than that, but I’m me. I think he’s great.

Mikey Dudek
Wide Receiver, Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, Illinois

You know how I couldn’t write “Steve Hull” without saying “STEVEHULL” the last four years? Right here is the last time I will ever type Dudek. He is, from now until forever, Dude K.

I base so much of my love for Dude K based on one catch. You’ve seen it, right. Screw the links – let’s embed.

If you look at camp reports from Rivals camps and such, you always saw mention of Dude K’s hands. I think it was Josh Helmholdt of Rivals who said he had some of the best hands in the 2014 class. So when you are reported to be able to catch anything thrown near you, and you make a catch like that above, I immediately put you in the “great get” category. He’s here early and enrolled, so there’s a good chance we hear from Dude K as early as this season.

Players I’m Excited About But Can’t Tell You Why

Henry McGrew
Linebacker, Blue Valley High School, Stilwell, Kansas

Who did I steal the “he sounds like a Dr. Seuss character” from? Twitter follower? Message board user? I love it so much. And I’m so proud of my “Henry McGrew ate his mulligan stew as he fretted o’er bills that were long overdue…”, even though I’m the only one who finds it funny.

I’m really not sure why I feel like McGrew will be the best of the three linebackers in this class. They’re all on the lower end of the ratings. Only a few of them even had other BCS offers. If you look at all of the linebackers recruited to all of the Big Ten schools in 2014, our three will rank last.

But I can’t shake the feeling that McGrew is the best of the bunch and way better than his “choosing between Kansas, Iowa State, and Illinois” suggests. Looks solid on film, faster than you might think for a guy who looks to be a legit 6′-3″, possible Leo candidate if he keeps growing. I think all three linebackers will redshirt this year, but if one of them plays, I’m thinking it will be McGrew.

Tito Odenigbo
Defensive End, Centerville High School, Centerville, Ohio

He grew up dreaming about playing for the Illini. No, really. He’d wake up on Saturday mornings nervous for the Illini game that day. So when we offered, he jumped at it. Dream school. Yes, really.

Go watch his senior film. Much more impressive than his junior film. If he stays on this road, in a few years, I think we have a solid Big Ten defensive lineman. High motor, gets after it, put-him-in-the-weight-room-and-let’s-see-what-we-have-in-2016.

Malik Turner
Wide Receiver, Sacred Heart Griffin High School, Springfield, Illinois

I’ve totally done a 180 on Turner. When he verballed, I meh’d, and I had a couple people send me emails saying “don’t meh Turner, he was injured for most of his last two seasons – watch what he does this fall”. So I watched what he did this fall, and I was impressed. That station in Springfield that picks a play of the week every week – I think Turner was the play of the week nearly every week. He’d return a punt or catch a long pass or juke a defender and you’d see his potential. He then led his team to a surprising state title, and I got a little more excited.

I think he’ll be a few years off – he needs strength (don’t we all?), but I like his potential and think he will contribute at receiver.

Peter Cvijanovic
Offensive Tackle, East Coast Prep, Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Here’s another player I flipped on. When he verballed, I gave him a one Tom Cruise rating. The first ever single Tom Cruise. And once again, I had a few people reach out with info on Cvijanovic and interest from Michigan State and such. And then a list of prep school players came out, and Cvijanovic was listed as #11 in the nation.

I guess I was originally thinking we offered because his brother is our starting left tackle. And I’ve come around to the notion that we might have offered his brother’s successor at left tackle.

Carroll Phillips
Defensive End/Leo, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Wesson, Mississippi

Let’s be honest. When you’re looking at junior college players, some of them are going to bust. We all had high hopes for Abe Cajuste last year based on his offer list, and then he just couldn’t find a place in the defensive line rotation. So when I look at Carroll Phillips and Joe Fotu, it’s likely that one of them just won’t be ready for Big Ten offensive linemen.

So I’m picking Phillips as the guy who is ready for the Big Ten. He originally was headed for Cincinnati, didn’t make the grades, ended up at Juco, and is now headed to Tim Banks’ defense (again) to play the Leo. We’re thin there, so it was very important to add immediate depth at Leo.

Players I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Tell You Why

Tre Watson
Linebacker, Tampa Catholic High School, Tampa, Florida

I saw that he was the defensive MVP of that Florida All Star game, but for some reason, I can’t get excited about him. I watch his film, and nothing really jumps out.

Which is weird, because he reminds me so much of Ian Thomas on film, and I gave Ian Thomas my sleeper award. So I’m not sure what it is about Watson, but I don’t see him as much more than a rotation guy.

Joe Fotu
Defensive Lineman, Laney College, Oakland, California

Unfortunately, Fotu is the lose in the “one defensive lineman will bust and one will be great” sweepstakes. I love that he’s from Laney College – that’s where the Illini practiced at my (yes, seriously) favorite Illini bowl experience at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. But I just can’t find much excitement for Fotu.

Which is weird, because I liked his film more than Phillips’. But I like Phillips more, because he fills a positional need. But Fotu looked pretty quick off the ball. Why do I have him down here in this category again?

Austin Roberts
Linebacker, Rice Lake High School, Rice Lake, Wisconsin

This is 94% the fact that he tore his ACL during his senior season, so I’ve put him on the “18 months before he’s anywhere near ready for Big Ten football”. Which puts someone on the “lock to redshirt” list for me. Which lands them down here in the “not that excited” category. Offers, knee, film – just not seeing it.

Julian Hylton
Athlete, Lincoln Way North High School, Frankfort, Illinois

I almost moved him after Beckman’s press conference today. Remember this fall how a few of us were discussing Jeremy Langford from Michigan State? We talked about how Langford was just a three-star athlete who played tailback in high school but was destined for cornerback in college. But he got to Michigan State, they realized they had a pretty solid tailback on their hands, and then they went and won the Rose Bowl with him? Anyone remember that discussion? I think it happened in the comments section of one of my posts.

Anyway, at the time, I said “why can’t we have one of those just once – why can’t Julian Hylton be that guy for us in a few years – the out-of-nowhere tailback surprise?” And then today, in his press conference, Beckman says that we’re going to try Hylton at running back first. He ran for 210 yards per game this fall in high school (kind of out of nowhere), so we’re going to give him a shot there.

Which makes my heart sing the “Hylton will be our Langford” song. Which makes my brain interrupt and force me to put Hylton down here. He is, after all, just a project ATH recruit. And maybe only 3 out of every 10 turn into solid Big Ten players. Down here he stays.

Chayce Crouch
Quarterback, Newark Catholic High School, Newark, Ohio

Every year I have that guy where I say “why do I have one of the top players in this class ranked down here? He’s ahead of Allegretti and Domer on my list above, and Bill Cubit knows how to target QB’s, and he’s probably our starting quarterback in 2017. So why can’t I watch his film and get excited?

It might be the Bailey/Lunt effect. They are all I can see for the next three seasons, so it’s easy to just put Chayce Crouch on a shelf. But the kid claims he graduated early to enroll early and win the starting job – something Lunt did at Oklahoma State and surprised everyone – so maybe he’s the sleeper of this class.

Maybe, but I just can’t see it. There’s something that’s just… off. Prove me wrong, kid.

Players I Just Don’t Know That Much About

Chris James
Defensive Back, West Orange-Stark High School, Orange, Texas

He just verballed yesterday as the fairly obvious Plan B replacement for Tyree Stone-Davis. I haven’t even had time to do his Looks Like University Of Illinois post yet. And a few of the scouting websites act like they’ve never heard of him before. So I really don’t have much I can share here. Other than “Iowa State offered, and landing kids from Texas is never a bad thing.”

And that’s it for the Players I Just Don’t Know That Much About category. When I first did this five years ago, I think I had 10 players in this category, a few that I knew next to nothing about. Mainly thanks to the blog, I know obsess over every verbal, so it pretty much takes an off-the-radar guy verballing the day before Signing Day to have someone for this category.

(That sounds like a brag, but it’s really not.)

Asamoah Award

My Asamoah Award is my yearly sleeper award. I gave it to Jon Asamoah in the 2006 class, and he turned out to be an NFL starter, so, emboldened by that, I hand it out every year expecting NFL stardom from a player who otherwise was ignored by most big time schools. It used to be restricted to 2-star recruits, but the sites rarely hand out two stars anymore, so now I go with the overlooked player who might play early.

And I always list all of my award winners so you can see that I sometimes swing and miss. And sometimes hit it out of the park. I’m Adam Dunn.

Here’s the past winners. And keep in mind, this is the sleeper list, not “best player in this class” list:

2006: Jon Asamoah
2007: Ian Thomas
2008: Ugo Uzodinma (transferred to New Mexico when Mike Locksley left, never played here)
2009: Walt Aikens (kicked off the team, played at Liberty, will be drafted in April)
2010: Jay Prosch
2011: Jeremey Whitlow
2012: V’Angelo Bentley
2013: Marchie Murdock

When I look at this list, there’s a receiver I really want to pick. But I’m gun shy after missing on Whitlow (has been here three years, hasn’t played yet), so I’m not going to go with a receiver. After that it’s clear who the choice should be. Grew up an Illini fan, ignored because he verballed so early, overshawdowed by his older brother who was a higher ranked recruit, has the frame and the bloodlines to be sneaky good at a position of need.

2014 Asamoah Award Winner: Defensive End Tito Odenigbo

Overall Thoughts

The Juco Class. That’s what this will be known for. We only had 17 rides to give out, which normally means “build depth”, but we just couldn’t. Not with the entire roster of wide receivers graduating. Not with the performance of the defensive line last year. We had to go the Juco route, and that’s what we did with Ward, Allison, TSD, Phillips, and Fotu. Three defensive linemen, two wide receivers, all expected to play and contribute immediately.

That reminds me of one thing I forgot to mention above. Plan B. That’s what I believe to be the best thing about the way Tim Beckman and Alex Golesh put together a signing class. It’s the one thing that always drove me nuts with Zook.

Zook would lose a recruit to somewhere else, or he would miss on a top target at, say, safety, but there was never a plan B recruit. He’d take that scholarship and give it to “best available”. Lose a safety, add a tight end. Which always brought us solid classes. Get a bunch of athletes in here and go win some football games.

Beckman and Golesh go about it differently. Last year, they lost safety Joshua Jones who flipped to NC State – they immediately offered and landed James Crawford. They lost cornerback Reon Dawson to Michigan – they immediately offered and landed Jaylen Dunlap. This year they lost Tyree Stone-Davis (looks like he won’t have the grades to get in) and so they brought in Plan B Chris James over the final weekend, offered him, and landed him.

Which means we won’t have a scenario where our secondary is running back Justin Green and wide receiver Terry Hawthorne at corner, and wide receiver Supo Sanni and wide receiver STEVEHULL at safety. We’ll have players recruited for specific positions playing those specific positions.

The rub? Zook’s classes were much higher rated. He had an eye for talent and could sell sell sell. He never built a roster, but he built a stable of athletes. And it’s possible that a stable of athletes >>>> a roster of plan B. We shall see in the next few years.

Overall, there’s not really much more you can say. It’s a juco class, and it’s a small class, and it’s a class of players who picked Illinois and saw their star ratings flatline. So while I’m excited to fill needs and get some instant impact (as well as adding Lunt and Paul James), it’s still way behind where we need to be. As I said in the Jimmy Fitzgerald LLUOI post, I’ve handed out my last pass for a Beckman class. 2012 was a throwaway, and 2014 was small with juco needs. 2013 was a really solid class, and 2015 has to be – MUST be – a top-40 class and the best class Beckman has landed. The next 10 months will tell us so much.

And with Ayoola returning + Lunt + James + Ward + Allison + TSD + the juco DL depth, I’m excited to see what all of these fresh faces bring to the program. Here’s hoping it’s six wins.

Signing Day Breakdown 2013

Four. This blog is now officially four years old. The first official post was Signing Day 2009. And some of those players have now graduated. And that’s really weird.

Let’s go back real quick and look at my very first prediction:

Terry Hawthorne (4-star WR from ESL, Parade Mag #1 receiver in the nation)
I get a Deron Williams vibe from Hawthorne. Part of a tandem of top recruits at his school, all the way until the end of his senior season the other guy was hyped more, and near the end articles like “you know, Terry Hawthorne might be the best player in the entire Midwest” start popping up.
I’ve said this before, but I think our top three recruits this decade are as follows:

1. Rashard Mendenhall
2. Arrelious Benn
3. Terry Hawthorne

Oh Terrance. Why did you have to only get (maybe) 18 healthy games in your four years? Why did only one coach let you return punts, and that was an interim coach, and you gained 45% of our punt return yards on the season in that one Vic Koenning game? Hmmm… I guess the first question answers the second.

Now it’s Signing Day 2013. The bad news: I’m a Year Three Rule guy, so these are the players who won’t really have much of an impact until 2015 and 2016. The good news: it’s our best crop of players since Terry Hawthorne’s 2009 class.

Each year I add something new to this birthday post. This year: an RSCI of sorts. If you’ve read anything basketball related here over the past 4 years, you know that I’m an RSCI junkie. I love the concept. Take all of the different basketball recruiting rankings, combine them, average them, and find the true top-100.

So I’ve done the same with this class. I’ve taken the rankings from four services – Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 24/7, listed out their rankings for our class from #1 to #25, and put together a list for this class from highest-regarded player to lowest. You’ll never guess who came out on top. The rankings, with the player’s point total included:

1. Aaron Bailey (6 – #1 on Rivals, #1 on Scout, #3 on ESPN, #1 on 24/7)
2. Darius Mosely (12 – #5 on Rivals, #2 on Scout, #2 on ESPN, #3 on 24/7)
3. Paul James III (16)
4. Jarrod Clements (18)
5. Caleb Day (24)
6. Merrick Jackson (32)
7. Darwyn Kelly (45)
8. Christian DiLauro (48)
9. Dillan Cazley (51)
10. Jesse Chadwell (52)
11. Abens Cajuste (56)
12. Dionte Taylor (58)
13. Marize Barr (60)
13. Bryce Douglas (60)
15. Zane Petty (61)
16. Miguel Hermosillo (63)
16. Dawuane Smoot (63)
18. Kendrick Foster (65)
19. Marchie Murdock (66)
19. Tyler White (66)
21. Austin Schmidt (68)
21. Dallas Hinkhouse (68)
23. James Crawford (74)
24. Eric Finney (82)
25. Jaylen Dunlap (86)

There’s a clear top-5 to this class: Bailey, Mosely, James, Clements, and Day. I knew that going in, but this list helped me see that these players were consistently ranked high.

The player who surprised me the most on this list: Merrick Jackson. #12 on Rivals, #5 on Scout, #6 on ESPN, #9 on 24/7. I didn’t realize that he was consistently listed as one of the better players in this class. Other guys weren’t as consistent – Dionte Taylor was #6 on Rivals and 24/7, but 24th on ESPN – but Jackson was consistently ranked up there.

The other thing that sticks out: the defensive line. Jackson is a true nose guard, and I think Jarrod Clements will be a 3-technique DT. So three of the top-6 players in this class are defensive linemen – James at DE, Clements at DT, Jackson at NG. Add in Dawuane Smoot (who will play the Michael Buchanan “Leo” position), and you have a pretty solid D-line in one class.

OK, right to it. For the fifth consecutive signing day, I present to you the ALE Signing Day Breakdown. As always, listed in five categories: Instant Impact Players, Great Gets, Recruits I’m Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why, Recruits I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Tell You Why, and Recruits I Just Don’t Know That Much About.

Instant Impact Players

Aaron Bailey
Quarterback
Bolingbrook HS / Bolingbrook, Illinois
Best Offers: Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Arizona, Wisconsin

Nebraska wanted him as the successor to Taylor Martinez. RichRod wanted him to run his offense in Arizona. Ohio State wanted him because he’s an elite athlete. And he picked Illinois.

I’m not sure what I could say about Bailey that I haven’t already said in this space the past nine months. He’s one of the top-10 high school athletes ever recruited to play football at Illinois. Almost Rashard-like in his ability to run with the football.

Can he throw? Well, he ran a triple option in high school, meaning he didn’t throw very much at all. He does have a strong arm (much stronger than Scheelhaase coming out of high school), but he’s just not very experienced. Worst case scenario, he’s a wide receiver or a safety. Best case scenario – he’s a poor man’s Braxton Miller.

ALE Projection: I think we have to get him on the field this fall. Maybe not at quarterback, but you can’t sit an athlete like this. I’ll guess that we design some packages for him (some where he’s a wideout, some where he’s in the backfield, some where he takes the snap). He’s our Slash next year (Steelers, not hair metal), and then the following three years he’s our starting quarterback.

Darius Mosely
Cornerback/Wide Receiver
O’Fallon Township HS / O’Fallon, Illinois
Best Offers: Vanderbilt, Michigan State, Arizona State, Kansas State

Besides Bailey (at Steak N Shake, checking my phone at the counter while paying), Mosely is the only other “I remember where I was when he committed” player. I was kayaking with my wife on the Meramec River. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and I had zero cell signal. That morning, en route to kayaking, I had read somewhere that Mosely’s latest follows on twitter were James Franklin and all of his Vandy assistants. So I launched my kayak expecting to lose him to Vanderbilt. We reached a highway bridge, I checked for a signal, had enough bars to check twitter, and BAM – Mosely to Illinois.

I said this in May before he committed and I’ll keep saying it until it doesn’t come true: I get this odd Brandon Lloyd vibe from Mosely. Something about how fluid he is on film makes me think that this kid is special. He’s not as far off the radar as Lloyd was – Brandon was a 2-star cornerback recruit, while ESPN ranks Mosely as a 4-star – but I just have this funny feeling that he can be an instant impact player like Lloyd.

Given our depth issues, I’m sure he’s bound for corner (so maybe I’ll say he can be Vontae-like). But I’d still love to see him at receiver.

ALE Projection: Mosely enrolled early and has been taking classes for 3 weeks. Given that he’ll get to go through Spring Ball, and given our depth issues at cornerback (we only have three returning – V’Angelo Bentley, Eaton Spence, and Javaris Little), Mosely is basically already in the two-deep for August 31st. With a decent chance that he starts as a true freshman.

Jarrod Clements
Defensive Lineman
Trotwood-Madison HS / Trotwood, Ohio
Best Offers: Tennessee, Louisville, NC State, West Virginia

Clements is one of those players who makes me, as an Illinois fan, hate recruiting rankings. He picked Illinois rather early in the process (May 1st), and then had a breakout performance at a Nike camp, where talent evaluators for Rivals and ESPN raved about his burst and his strength. He wasn’t rated at the time, so when the rankings came out on Rivals, he shot all the way up to… the highest 3-star rating they could give.

Rivals lists him as a defensive end. There were 16 four-star defensive ends ranked. So they moved Clements to 17th. There were 19 four-star players from Ohio. Rivals slotted him at #20. Had he picked Tennessee, or had he waited and received offers from bigger programs after the Nike camp, he would, in my cynical mind, easily be rated as a 4-star. When you pick Illinois, and you haven’t been rated yet, sorry folks, highest 3-star possible/highest Ohio 3-star spot possible is the best you can do. We’re Ceiling U.

But that doesn’t make him any less of a player. What does possibly make him less of a player is the fact that he tore his ACL at one of those camps in June. He missed most of his high school season recovering from the injury (I believe he did return for the Ohio state playoffs), and recent articles said he’s still not back to 100%. By the time Camp Rantoul rolls around, he should be at 100%, so I don’t expect a redshirt. I think he’s in the defensive line rotation in September (partly because we have depth issues, partly because he’s awesome).

ALE Projection: I always forget to save some info for this section. Well, by the time Camp Rantoul rolls around, he should be at 100%, so I don’t expect a redshirt. I think he’s in the defensive line rotation in September (partly because we have depth issues, partly because he’s awesome).

Paul James III
Defensive Lineman
Norland HS / Miami, Florida
Best Offers: Alabama, Florida State, West Virginia, Louisville, Texas A&M

ESPN ranks James at the best player in our class (and he’s #200 on their ESPN 300 list). And given his offer list, it’s hard to argue.

The best thing about the James verbal is that we really, really, really needed a strongside defensive end in this class. At DE this fall, Tim Kynard will start, and he’ll be backed up by two relative unknowns (Kenny Nelson and Dejazz Woods). Adding a highly rated DE with the size to play as a freshman was a huge need in this class.

ALE Projection: I think he’ll be third string behind Kynard and Nelson, but I don’t think he redshirts. And if he has a decent enough season getting his feet wet, there’s a good chance he starts as a sophomore in 2014.

Great Gets

Caleb Day
Secondary/Wide Receiver
Darby HS / Hilliard, Ohio
Best Offers: Ohio State, Arkansas, Louisville, Cincinnati

I was very close to putting Caleb Day in the first group. But given that I’m not sure he has a true position (I think we might try him at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety), I don’t think I can claim that he’ll be an “instant impact” kid. Great Gets is all I can do. Sorry, Mrs. Day.

I think Darwyn Kelly and the Jucos will decide where Day plays. (Darwyn Kelly and the Jucos this weekend at the Blind Pig – you going?) (Is there still a Blind Pig?) (Please tell me there’s still a Blind Pig.) If Kelly and Zane Petty and Eric Finney are ready to play right away in the secondary (or if someone would actually play my boy walkon Ben Mathis), then Day is probably freed up to give wide receiver a shot. If not, we probably need him at safety.

ALE Projection: I don’t think Day redshirts, but I also don’t think he contributes a lot as a freshman. He played a little bit of everything in high school – running back, wide receiver, cornerback, safety. I think we figure out where we want him and then spend the year teaching him that position.

Darwyn Kelly
Safety
H.D. Woodson HS / Washington, DC
Best Offers: North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Purdue

Kelly is a safety from Eddie McGee’s old high school in Washington DC. Hmmm… that was also Tavon Wilson’s high school. And Evan Frierson. And Joelil Thrash. Are their colors orange and blue or something?

I see Kelly right on the line between redshirt and no redshirt. We need help in the secondary, but it’s really hard for a freshman to be ready to play at safety in the Big Ten. But with all of the unknowns (Steve Hull’s shoulder, does Earnest Thomas stay at safety or move to star, are the Jucos ready to play right away), I’m leaning towards Kelly playing as a true freshman.

ALE Projection: Plays as a backup and also on special teams. Two years of this, and then once Earnest Thomas and the Jucos graduate after 2014, Kelly moves into the starting lineup.

Merrick Jackson
Defensive Tackle
Althoff HS / Belleville, Illinois
Best Offers: Missouri, Iowa, Indiana

Jackson is another kid who might not redshirt. With Glenn Foster gone and Akeem Spence leaving early for the NFL, the DT possibilities next year are Austin Teitsma, Jake Howe (back from a broken arm), Teko Powell, and Vontrell Williams. From this class, add to that Juco Abens Cajuste, Jarrod Clements (who might still be a DE next year), Bryce Douglas, and Merrick Jackson.

Given their size, Jackson and Douglas are slotted for nose guard (Jackson is already 320 lbs, Douglas is 315). And given that we don’t really have any true monsters on the roster to play the shade, there’s a chance Jackson (or Douglas) gets a chance early.

ALE Projection: I think Cajuste will be ready to play immediately (best offer list of the Jucos), so in the end, I think Jackson will redshirt. He may be big, but every high school defensive tackle needs a lot of work in the weight room before they’re ready.

Abens Cajuste
Defensive Tackle
Victor Valley Community College / Victorville, California
Best Offers: Baylor, Cal, Arizona, Kansas State, Pitt, Rutgers

The biggest thing you notice about Cajuste on film is how quick he is. He can move pretty good for a guy who weighs 305 lbs. I think he enters the rotation immediately at defensive tackle. Maybe even starts.

And he’s already in school and will be participating in Spring Ball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the post-spring depth chart as a starter at defensive tackle.

ALE Projection: Why do I keep doing this? I’m supposed to talk about the player up there and then discuss his future position down here. But I keep ruining it. Ruiner.

Recruits I’m Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why

Marchie Murdock
Wide Receiver
Legacy HS / Mansfield, Texas
Best Offers: San Diego State, Navy, Colorado State

Murdock is my Asamoah Award winner for this year (given to the 2-star recruit who I think is a sleeper recruit, like Jon Asamoah). I watched his junior film when he committed and, to be honest, I gave it a little “meh”. Then Rivals put up some senior film, and I was nowhere near “meh”. (I’d link it, but it’s premium content).

I really, really loved his senior film. Maybe it’s just that he’s from Texas, and the quality of football is that much improved, but I really liked how this kid caught the ball. One one play, he switches which shoulder he’s looking over trying to spot the ball and remains composed enough to catch it. You can’t teach that.

Now, granted, I always think Texas high school film is played back at 1.1x the speed of a normal tape. Feels like they speed it up just enough to make the players look faster while not detecting the fast-forward. So that might be at play when watching his senior film. But again, very impressed with how he played the position.

ALE Projection: We need a lot of help at receiver, but I don’t think Murdock will play because of it. I can see him redshirting, learning our system, and then breaking into the rotation immediately as a redshirt freshman.

Dillan Cazley
Defensive Back
Charleston HS / Charleston, IL
Best Offers: Kentucky, Purdue

Can I just admit something here? I have no idea – no clue – how to spell Cazley and Mosely. One is “ley”, the other is “ely”. In various posts on here and random message boards over the last year, I’ve probably typed both of their names 200 times. And I think it’s right down the middle – 50 times I’ve said Cazley, 50 times I’ve typed Cazely, 50 times Mosely, and another 50 Mosley. Still, at this moment, as I just typed that sentence, I have no idea which one is correct. I can go back and look, but it won’t do any good. By the time I finish looking it up and typing it out correctly, I’ll already be questioning myself.

Cazley (SEE) is another one of our TEN early enrollees. He was the first player to verbal (last Februany), which always means a player falls completely off the radar. Pick Illinois a year before signing day and you can guarantee zero recruiting buzz (BITTER ALERT).

So pay little attention to Cazely’s offer list. If you’re not a top-200 kind of guy, you’re not going to have huge offer lists in February. Instead, pay attention to Cazley’s film. Really like this kid.

ALE Projection: Even though he was an early enrollee, I still think he redshirts. A couple years learning cornerback (or maybe free safety) and then enter the rotation in 2015 or so.

Christian DiLauro
Offensive Tackle
Green HS / Uniontown, Ohio
Best Offers: Akron

That’s it. One Akron offer. And I’m crazy excited about this kid.

First off, I’ve been a “please start recruiting high school tight ends and turning them into offensive tackles” guy for about 33 years now. So to see us finally do that thrills me. Iowa and Wisconsin have been doing this for years

The good news: his size and especially his footwork show that he could be a really solid Big Ten Offensive Tackle. The bad news: Even though he’s an early enrollee, the next time you hear his name will probably be 2016. He needs to sleep in the weight room and double the Tisdale diet.

ALE Projection: 2016. But really good in 2016 and 2017.

Dewuane Smoot
Defensive End
Groveport HS / Groveport, Ohio
Best Offers: Indiana, Ohio, Western Michigan

As I said in the basketball signing day breakdown back in November, I’m a big fan of recruiting positions. That class had a point guard, a shooting guard, a wing, and power forward, and a center. And this recruiting class has a defensive end, a 3-tech defensive tackle, two nose guards, and a Leo (Smoot).

We really needed to add a Leo to this class, as we currently have Darrius Caldwell (who will start as a redshirt sophomore this fall) and Houston Bates (who is going to give Leo a shot after moving from linebacker). I like Smoot in some camp film I saw, and I think he can fill that role for us. Solid pick-up.

ALE Projection: I think he redshirts, and then I think he takes an additional year learning how to play the unique, part DE, part linebacker position of Leo DE. I could see him fitting in as Caldwell’s backup in 2015 (after Bates graduates) and then starting there in 2016.

James Crawford
Safety
St. Thomas Aquinas HS / Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Best Offers: Boise State, Northwestern, Houston

There’s always one “can’t explain why, can’t point to it on film, but love this kid” recruit in each class. Crawford is that guy in this class.

Truth be told, he was a Plan B recruit. We lost safety Joshua Jones to NC State, and Crawford was his replacement in this class. I loved Jones, and his decommit was a big loss, but I like Crawford too. St. Thomas Aquinas is the top high school program in the country. I believe 13 of their players are signing D-1 scholarships today. And I like keeping the pipeline going. Justin DuVernois from there in 2011. Dami Ayoola last year. Crawford this year.

ALE Projection: And we’ve reached the end of the “ALE Projection” section. Because the rest of these will just say “redshirt, get stronger, see you in 2016.”

Recruits I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why

Dallas Hinkhouse
Offensive Tackle
Iowa Western CC / Council Bluffs, Iowa
Best Offers: Nevada, Miami (OH), San Jose State, Ball State

OK, so we’ve entered the “sorry, but…” section of this post. I always feel bad when I say things like “yeah, so he has NO chance of playing”. But this is the call ‘em like I see ‘em section. You know, where I say things like “Akeem Spence doesn’t show much on film”.

I keep seeing depth charts that put Hinkhouse with the first string this fall, and I’m just not seeing it. Maybe I’m just so entrenched with my “offensive linemen need three years in the weight room” mantra that it’s hard for me to see a Juco guy come in and start. He is on campus now, so he’ll have spring ball to learn the scheme, but I’m just not seeing him take a spot from one of the returning tackles. As bad as they might have been last year.

Martize Barr
Wide Receiver
Iowa Western CC / Council Bluffs, Iowa
Best Offers: None listed

I guess this is the “Robert dislikes Juco players from Iowa Western Community College” section. Barr has hopped all around. Originally from Washington DC, he was a Mike Locksley recruit at New Mexico. Next stop was Iowa Western CC, and now Illinois. We need wide receivers, and he’ll have a chance to play right away.

But will he? No other offers, and only third on his Juco with 30 catches in 12 games. Yes, they won the Juco national championship, so that was a really good team, but this is the “not that excited about” section, and I need more than 30 Juco catches to get excited.

Tyler White
Tight End
Plainwell HS / Plainwell, Michigan
Best Offers: None listed

I keep seeing “sleeper” attached to this kid’s name. Scout thinks highly of him (they rank him as the 8th best player in this class). And he looks pretty good on video.

But I’m preconditioned to shrug my shoulders at every single tight end recruit. I swear the last time we consistently used the tight end was Ken Dilger in the early 90′s. Maybe Bill Cubit will be different – Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse always impress me in Rantoul – but I just can’t find a way to get excited about a tight end recruit.

Dionte Taylor
Wide Receiver
University HS / Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Best Offers: Nebraska, Louisville, Boston College, Missouri, Oklahoma State

I guess there’s always a player that inexplicably doesn’t excite me. Taylor might have one of the five best offer lists in this class. But the highlights I’ve seen just don’t pop off the screen for me.

It’s probably my wide receiver depression. We were nearly last in the country in production from our wide receivers last year, so it’s hard for me to see Bill Cubit coming in and improving that. Maybe we just needed Florida speed like Taylor. Or maybe we’re broken and won’t have a passing game for three more years.

Austin Schmidt
Offensive Tackle
Olentangy HS / Galena, Ohio
Best Offers: Central Michigan

I mean, how cool of a high school name is “Olentangy High School”. See, I found something to be positive about.

It’s always hard to get a read on offensive linemen. The 4-star guys like Craig Wilson and Mark Jackson don’t pan out, and the 2-star guys like Jeff Allen or Jon Asamoah turn out to be your best linemen. It’s a really hard position to predict.

But of the three offensive tackles in this class, I like Schmidt the least. I mean, you have to like someone the least, right? Someone has to finish last. So Schmidt finishes last.

He’ll now start as a true freshman.

Recruits I Just Don’t Know That Much About

Michael Hermosillo
Running Back
Ottawa Township HS / Ottawa, Illinois
Best Offers: Toledo, Northern Illinois

Here’s another kid I keep seeing on internet sleeper lists. I love his high school stats. But I’m just not sure where he fits. Bill Cubit said in his press conference that the biggest difference you’ll see in the running game from him is more north-south and not as much side to side option stuff. So where is there room for a 5′-9″ speed back in that offense? When I hear that, I automatically think “cornerback in a few years”. Speaking of which…

Kendrick Foster
Running Back
Richwoods HS / Peoria, Illinois
Best Offers: Illinois State

I actually like Foster a lot more than Hermosillo on film. But he’s even shorter. That’s what Chris Beatty was trying to do with this offense – find the tiny Jeff Demps types. But will Cubit do that? He didn’t at Western Michigan. When I hear that, I automatically think “cornerback in a few years”.

Eric Finney
Safety/Star
College of the Canyons JC / Santa Clarita, California
Best Offers: None listed

I should know a lot more about Finney. Wait – maybe I do. Is it his film I loved, or what is Zane Petty? Those two are one player in my head. Probably because both might start this fall. Finney is slotted for the star (hybrid linebacker/safety) position. And with Ashante Williams graduating, and TaJarvis Fuller kicked off the team last September, only redshirt freshman BJ Bello remains on the roster at that position. So there’s a good chance Finney starts.

Zane Petty
Safety
American River CC / Sacramento, California
Best Offers: None listed

You have to admit, it feels a little Mike White-y with all of these California Jucos, doesn’t it? Oops, sorry, some of you weren’t born yet. In the early 80′s, Mike White took an Illinois football program that had been dormant since the Slush Fund Scandal in 1967 and turned it around with California Jucos. And then he had a scandal of his own. And then John Mackovic took us near the top of the Big Ten. And then we went into a 20 year freefall. And I’m supposed to be talking about Zane Petty.

Zane Petty. Safety. Probable starter. And nobody, myself included, knows much about the kid. Bring on spring ball!

Jaylen Dunlap
Cornerback
Crete-Monee HS / Crete, Illinois
Best Offers: Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan

Dunlap was another Plan B recruit. Reon Dawson flipped a few weeks ago from Illinois to Michigan (grumble grumble grumble), and so we brought in Dunlap for a visit, offered him, and he committed at the Core 6 Showcase on MLKJr Day. Crete-Monee has become somewhat of a football factory of late (Anthony Standifer last year, Laquon Treadwell and Dunlap this year, 4-star linebacker Nyles Morgan next year. It’s always good to go with the football factories for your Plan B kids. So I like that we turned to St. Thomas Aquinas (Crawford) and Crete-Monee (Dunlap).

Jesse Chadwell
Offensive Tackle
Clarkston HS / Clarkston, Michigan
Best Offers: Kent State, Central Michigan, Western Michigan

Yeah, I should have watched more film on him, too. I remember liking him more than Schmidt, but I was so in love with DiLauro’s athleticism and footwork that all of his film stuck in my head and Chadwell and Schmidt’s faded from memory. Well, I guess I can go with the standard disclaimer: Chadwell redshirts. Chadwell eats 5 times per day. We don’t hear Chadwell’s name for three years. And then he gets his first shot on the field as a redshirt junior in 2016.

Bryce Douglas
Defensive Tackle
Plainfield Central HS / Plainfield, Illinois
Best Offers: Central Michigan, Illinois State

Are you kidding me? I just had to go back through the list to see who I missed, and it’s Bruce Douglas’ SON that I forgot. 300 lb son of an Illini legend and he’s the last player I get to? What?

I’m going to take this as a sign that Douglas is really good. The forgotten man. The true sleeper. His dad’s athleticism combined with 300 lbs of bulk. A future nose guard superstar. The Immovable Man In The Middle. Wow, how did I forget to cover Bruce Douglas’ son??

Final Thoughts

Overall, our best class since 2009. It was setting up to be a really, really good class in June, and then 2-10 happened, and that hurt us on two fronts: 1) We lost guys like Reon Dawson and Joshua Jones (although, given the disaster of this season, to hang on to our top-4 recruits was a bit of a miracle), and 2) we turned to Juco recruits to fill in gaping holes. And Juco recruits always kill your class ranking.

The biggest coup was getting 10 kids in here early. Especially the secondary guys, like Mosely (Mosley?). As we discussed over a year ago, the biggest *boggle* Tim Beckman experienced when he took the job had to be a look at our defensive secondary roster. Terry Hawthorne, Justin Green, Jack Ramsey, Supo Sanni, Patrick Nixon-Youman, all seniors. Leaving him with, when he took the job, with only Eaton Spence, Nick North, and STEVEHULL for 2013. He had 6 weeks last year and one year for this class to find 8-10 players for his secondary. Getting four of those guys in here as early enrollees in January was huge. Might move next year’s secondary from “triple sell” to “don’t buy”.

Where are the gaping holes? Well, we didn’t add any interior offensive linemen, although I’m sure the coaches are counting on the large number of freshmen and sophomores there (guys like Joseph Spencer and Tony Durkin and Chris Boles and Shawn Afryl that we haven’t seen yet, combined with Alex Hill and Teddy Karras.) We also didn’t land a top-end wide receiver, which means we might be in deep trouble with three seniors graduating (heck, we might be in deep trouble before the three seniors graduate). Didn’t add any linebackers, but we’re completely fine there (Brown, Monheim, Svetina, Cooper, Dickinson, Grimes, Neal).

But overall, our best class since 2009. I think I can confidently say that if we ranked our top-10 recruits (based on offer lists and stars) in the last four classes, Bailey, Day, Mosely, Clements, and James all make that top 10. Actually, let me do that.

1. Aaron Bailey
2. Jon Davis
3. Darius Mosely
4. Paul James III
5. Darius Millines
6. Jarrod Clements
7. Jonathan Brown
8. Caleb Day
9. Earnest Thomas
10. TJ Neal

There’s good news and bad news buried in that list. The good news is, this class starts our path back to having a complete roster talented enough to compete in the Big Ten. The bad news is, it will be a while before these freshmen are solid contributors, and if only five of our sophomores, juniors, and seniors can crack that list, we’re still a long way away from having that necessary roster.

But I’m patient. I’m an Illinois football fan. I’ve never been into the whole gift horse mouth-looking thing.

Lead us back, Aaron Bailey.

Signing Day Thoughts

I do most of my writing in this space between 9:00 pm and 1:00 am. (Hurray! Another “how the sausage is made” post!) My wife and kids go to sleep around 9:00, and then it’s Blog Time. Many times I wait until the next morning to review what I’ve written before publishing it. Sometimes I edit. Sometimes I trash it. Nearly every time I’m embarrassed by something I wrote that, at the time, I thought was funny.

Because my window during the week is 3-4 late-night hours, and because most Illini news happens while the sun is shining, I always struggle with writing about things that feel like yesterday’s news. Like tonight, for example. I want to write about this signing class, but if you’re like me, you already read 7 articles about this class today. You know all of their middle names. You have their stats memorized. You know the name of the condition Malcolm Hill was hospitalized for this summer. What could I tell you that you don’t already know?

The only way to rid myself of this frustration, of course, is to write about things as they happen during the day. But I also like keeping my job and feeding my children. So 9:00 to 1:00 each night is all I can give right now. Some day, when ALE reaches Total Illini Internet Domination, maybe you’ll get seven posts per day. But for now, it’s Late Night With Robert.

Three random thoughts on the 2013 Illini Basketball signing class:

ALE Recruiting Website Team Ranking Consensus

I shall do as the RSCI does in determining just where this class ranks nationally. Here’s the numbers:

Rivals: 10th
Scout: 18th
ESPN: 23rd
CBS Sports: 16th

10 + 18 + 23 + 16 = 67
67 / 4 = 16.75
16.75 rounded up = 17

Through the wonders of math, John Groce brought in the 17th best recruiting class in the country this year. With 7 months to work with and his lead recruiting assistant leaving after only two months, that’s ridiculously impressive.

Will it bring us back to the Dee/Deron/Augie days? No (although he got close to that with Demetrius Jackson and Xavier Rathan-Mayes). But for a first class, it’s really, really good.

Illini recruiting classes with three consensus top-100 players since the Recruiting Services Consensus Index was put together in 1998.

2002: Dee Brown, Deron Williams, James Augustine, Aaron Spears
2010: Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard, Crandall Head
2011: Mike Shaw, Tracy Abrams, Myke Henry, Nnanna Egwu
2013: Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Austin Colbert

The next step for John Groce: pulling in top-50 RSCI players. Weber’s 2011 class and Groce’s 2013 class were very solid, but they lack the top-end talents like Marcus Griffin, Frank Williams, and Brian Cook. This is a great start, but Groce really needs a top-25 kid to add to the mix with our one 2014 scholarship. OHAI, KEITA BATES-DIOP, #20 PLAYER IN 2014 AND ONLY 50 MILES AWAY FROM CAMPUS.

One more thing. On paper, this recruiting class is better than Bill Self’s first class at Illinois. And it’s better than Bruce Weber’s first class at Illinois. And Bruce Weber’s second class at Illinois. And Bruce Weber’s third class at Illinois. And Bruce Weber’s fourth class at Illinois. And Bruce Weber’s fifth class at Illinois.

Restarting Five

That’s a working title. But as John Groce RESTARTS our program, he chose to fill out his first class with an entire team. Jaylon Tate is a pure point guard, Kendrick Nunn a shooting guard with the emphasis on shooting, Malcolm Hill a wing guard with the emphasis on wing, Austin Colbert an up-and-down-the-floor four, and Maverick Morgan a space eater in the middle.

How does that fit with next year’s roster? Well, I see the starters being Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Myke Henry, and Nnanna Egwu. So Colbert and Morgan will come in and immediately compete with Mike Shaw and Ibby Djimde for backup frontcourt minutes. And I think Kendrick Nunn is probably the guy that fits best with that backcourt, as none of those three starters are known as shooters. I think Nunn and Malcolm Hill will be able to find minutes if they can score. And with only one point guard on the roster in Abrams, Jaylon Tate has a chance to play right away as well.

So I don’t see any redshirts in this Restarting Five. Which means there’s a chance that by the time they’re all seniors, they’ll be our starting five.

But In 2015…

At some point, John Groce is going to need to get our class balance back on track. The current roster consists of four seniors, one (redshirt) junior, five sophomores, and one (redshirt) freshmen (plus walkon Mike LaTulip). So after bringing in five in this class, we’ll have one senior, six juniors (with Rice is added in), one sophomore, and these five freshmen. If that doesn’t change, we’ll just keep getting sick on this roller coaster. Class of one in 2014. Then six in 2015. Then one again in 2016.

For the most part, this problem will take care of itself. There will be attrition (there’s always attrition), and we’ll stack those scholarships in the empty classes. We won’t be on the roller coaster forever.

But this class imbalance reveals one other thing. And since I like to exaggerate, here goes:

The 2015 Illini recruiting class is the most important basketball recruiting class since the 1994 post-probation recruiting class. This year was a late start (and Groce still did an outstanding job). Year number 2 is usually when a coach brings in his statement class, but we only have one available scholarship for the 2014 class. So 2015 it is. Bold prediction just because ILLINI BASKETBALL IS FUN AGAIN:

Top-5 class nationally in 2015, headlined by top-10, best-Illini-recruit-since-Deon-Thomas Charles Matthews. Mark it down. In ink.

Signing Day Breakdown 2012

The Signing Day post is always a little celebration around here.  Today, this little blog turns three.  The terrible twos are behind us – my last dance with irresponsibility was the U MAD BRO? Weber photo – and it’s time to grow up and start thinking about preschool.  May Year Four be full of play dates, naps, and Yo Gabba Weber.

(Yo Gabba Weber. Yep. Entering Year Four, and I just ran with Yo Gabba Weber.)

Here’s how these posts work.  Because I’m OCD for the Illini, I watch all of the recruits on tape throughout the year.   In the Signing Day Breakdown, I give you my opinion on each player.  And I rank them in categories: Instant Impact Players, Great Gets, Recruits I’m Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why, Recruits I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why, and Recruits I Just Don’t Know Much About.  Since this is the 4th of these, let’s see how I did with the 2009 class:

Instant Impact Players: Terry Hawthorne
Great Gets: Nathan Scheelhaase, Lendell Buckner, Justin Green, Michael Buchanan
Excited About, Can’t Tell You Why: Walt Aikens, Eric Watts, Steve Hull, Hugh Thornton, Bud Golden
Not Excited About, Can’t Tell You Why: Leon Hill, Justin Lattimore, Greg Fuller, Jake Feldmeyer
Don’t Know Enough To Make A Judgement Call: Darryl Lee, Aaron Gress, Andrew Carter, Tommie Hopkins, Tim Kynard, Joelil Thrash, and Akeem Spence.

I was doing so well until that very last name, wasn’t I?

Before I get in to this class, three general thoughts:

1) This is probably our lowest ranked class in about 10 years.  And I really don’t fault Tim Beckman one bit.  This class was ranked last in the Big Ten when he took over, and he’s done the best he can in the last 6 weeks to scrape together a full recruiting class.  As I said a few weeks ago, he gets a Get Out Of Jail Free card with this one.

2) This class proves that recruiting is about relationships.  Of the 10 players that he brought in for his first class at Illinois, 6 of them were guys he was actively recruiting at Toledo.  Knowing his limitations with a 6 week timeline, I’m guessing he targeted guys from his Toledo list who he felt could play in the Big Ten.  That’s all good and fine for this class, but next year, he has to develop those relationships with what looks like the best in-state class in years.

3) Hello Cleveland.  Rock and roll.  Beckman grew up in Berea, Ohio (suburb of Cleveland), and 5 of the 10 recruits he added to this class are within a 30 minute drive of Berea.  Remember how Zook had a high concentration of players from Jacksonville, Florida (Disch) and Washington DC (Locksley)?  It looks like the main area where Beckman will try to get plugged in is Cleveland.

OK – to the list.

INSTANT IMPACT PLAYERS

TaJarvis Fuller (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Safety/Linebacker
Fort Meyers, FL (Dunbar)
Best offers: Georgia Tech, Louisville, Wisconsin, UCLA

The biggest reason I think TaJarvis will be an instant impact player: he’s already in school.  He’s one of two recruits in this class (Daniel Rhodes is the other) to enroll early, so he’ll get a head start on learning Tim Banks’ defense in the spring.  Another reason: if he can play strong safety, he might play right away.

Watching his film, he probably projects as a linebacker type.  He was a Zook recruit, and I believe Vic Koenning had designs on making him a Busseybacker.  There’s been a lot of talk that Beckman’s defenses have always had a “star” linebacker (more or less a Busseybacker – half safety, half linebacker), so it’s possible that Fuller could end up there.  But part of me still wants him as a big-hittin’ Kevin Mitchell safety.

ALE Projection: These projections will be hard this year, mostly because we don’t know the specifics of the schemes yet.  So I’ll go out on a limb and say that Banks’ defense has room for a linebackery safety, and Fuller gets some minutes backing up Supo Sanni.

Here’s Fuller when he signed with Illinois:

GREAT GETS

TJ Neal (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Linebacker
McKeesport, PA
Best Offers: Auburn, Florida, Nebraska, USC

Of all the players I reviewed, Neal probably looks the best on tape.  You know how some linebackers just seem to toy with the offensive lineman getting to the second level that are trying to block them?  How they kind of keep them at arms length until they’re ready to shed them and make the tackle?  That’s what I love about Neal.  He shed’s his block and wraps up – looks like he’s had good coaching in high school.

But I’m putting him down here and not in “Instant Impact Players” because we’re just fine at linebacker next year.  Jonathan Brown in the middle, Houston Bates (and maybe Henry Dickinson) one one side, Ashante Williams (or maybe Earnest Thomas or Zeph Grimes) on the other.  So I think Neal is coming in and trying to fight Ralph Cooper for backup middle linebacker.

ALE Projection: No redshirt, special teams player, a few spot minutes at middle linebacker.  But in the future, I think he’s Jonathan Brown’s replacement.

Dami Ayoola (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Running Back
Ft. Lauderdale, FL (St. Thomas Aquinas)
Best Offers: Notre Dame, Auburn, Wisconsin, West Virginia

I know you’re wondering – it’s pronounced “Dommy Uh-YOO-luh”.  And he comes from the top high school program in the country (St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale).  I thought we’d lose him to Notre Dame, and I was certain that he would decommit – he verballed to Illinois only 2 days before Zook was fired – but in the end, even though it appeared he might go to Boston College, he stuck with Illinois.

Ayoola is an interesting little tailback.  He’s short (5′-9″ or so), but he’s not a scatback.  He’s more of a power runner, with thick legs and a powerful drive.  The thing I like best about him is his change of direction.  He has that quick hop to the left or right to avoid a tackler that Pierre Thomas has.  It will be interesting to see how we use him.  Next year, Donovonn Young is the power back and Josh Ferguson is the scatback, but Ayoola will probably get carries as well.  He’s 5′-9″, but I think we use him more like Young than Ferguson.

ALE Projection: We need three tailbacks, so one of the freshmen will play.  I’m guessing Ayoola is the guy.  I think he’ll be 4th on the team in rushing next fall, behind Scheelhaase, Young, and Ferguson.

V’Angelo Bentley (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on Scout, not rated by ESPN)
Cornerback
Cleveland, OH (Glenville)
Best Offers: Iowa, Pittsburgh, Kansas, Air Force

He’s not ranked as high as some of these other guys, and he doesn’t have the offers that the players above have, but I might be more excited about Bentley than any other player in this class.  We need cornerbacks so very badly, and I think this kid can be a great one.  Go watch some of his highlights from this video to see what I’m talking about.  It’s 14 minutes long, so just skip to the 2:10 mark and watch all of his highlights from the game that Glenville played at Ohio State’s stadium.  Punt return for a touchdown, fumble return for a touchdown, and several great runs (he was a tailback in high school but projects as a corner in college).

I’m a huge fan of high school tailbacks at cornerback (see: Green, Justin).  And with Green and Hawthorne set to graduate next year, we’ll have openings for starters at both cornerback spots.  I’m guessing Bentley will hold down one of those spots in 2013.

ALE Projection: I don’t think he redshirts.  I think he’s our 3rd or 4th corner next year, and a starter in 2013. That’s probably putting too much on a kid who only had 4 or 5 BCS offers, but I really like his film.  And his high school.  And his hat.

Teko Powell (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Defensive Tackle
Miami, FL (Norland)
Best Offers: Florida, Florida State, LSU, Wisconsin

I see a theme developing.  It’s called “recruit guys from high school powerhouse programs”.  Ayoola is from St. Thomas Aquinas.  Bentley from Cleveland Glenville.  And Powell is from Miami Norland.  These are high schools that produce multiple FBS athletes every single year, so I’m glad that Beckman’s staff is targeting the factories.

Powell fits a big need – we’re pretty short on defensive tackles once Glenn Foster graduates and Akeem Spence possibly leaves for the NFL (something I think he does after next season).  We have Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma, and I think redshirt freshman Chris O’Connor might play some DT, but that’s it.  So getting a good DT from a good program with a great offer list is a big win.

ALE Projection: I still think he redshirts, though.  Next year, we’ll have Spence and Foster starting with Howe and Teitsma backing them up – I think Powell redshirts and adds some weight to his current +/- 280 pounds (ESPN lists him at 250 pounds).

RECRUITS I’M EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY

LaKeith Walls (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Running Back / Athlete
Cleveland, OH (Rhodes)
Best Offers: Iowa, Louisville, NC State, Pittsburgh

All Cleveland all the time.  That’s a theme you’ll see in this class and hopefully the next eight.  Our head coach is more plugged-in in Cleveland than any other city, so that’s where we’ll recruit the hardest.

Walls is an interesting prospect.  He doesn’t go to one of the football factory schools in Cleveland, so he’s a little off the radar, but I feel like we found a steal.  He’s maybe too tall for a running back but has many long runs on his film.  And he runs kind of weird (upright with shoulders moving), but he’s deceptively fast.  So my hope is that he finds his way to safety, learns some technique, and then uses that speed to blow up receivers over the middle.

And, of course, by “blow up” I simply mean “gently help to the ground within the rules of football”.

ALE Projection: Tried at tailback, sitting behind Young, Ferguson, and Ayoola, switches to safety as a redshirt freshman, blows people up starting in 2014.

Vontrell Williams (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Defensive Tackle
Chicago, IL (Mt. Carmel)
Best Offers: Michigan State, Kansas, Indiana

All Chicago all the time.  If we’re going to get plugged in with Cleveland Glenville and Miami Norland, let’s get in good with Mt. Carmel as well.  And if we’re going to get in good with Mt. Carmel, why not bring in an athletic defensive tackle who can move a little bit?

I really like Williams on film, and I have no idea why he only had 3 other BCS offers.  He’s big, strong, and surprisingly mobile.  I think he challenges for playing time in 2013.

ALE Projection: Redshirt for strength, he and Powell push Teitsma and Howe for playing time in 2013.

Joseph Spencer (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Center/Guard
Mason, OH
Best Offers: Cincinnati, NC State, South Florida

I really like this guy.  I like what some of the talent evaluators at Rivals had to say.  I like that he finishes blocks on film.  I like that he projects as a center.  I like that he’s an offensive lineman from Ohio, because for some reason, in my head, offensive linemen from Ohio are 31% better than offensive linemen from any other state.

ALE Projection: Redshirt for strength (duh), and then he’s immediately in the competition with Jake Feldmeyer and Tony Durkin for the starting center position after Graham Pocic graduates next year.

Devin Church (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Running Back
Bloomfield, MI (Brother Rice)
Best Offers: Boston College, NIU, Toledo

Flipped him from NIU, so he’s automatically going to be as diamond-in-the-rough as Jon Asamoah, another player we flipped from the Huskies.  And I like him on film – great vision.  If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I’m a sucker for great vision.  What made Mikel Leshoure great in my book was his ability to see a hole before it was there.  And run full speed at that spot until it appeared.  And then make one extra cut once he got through that hole.  I see some of that in Church’s film.  Does he have the physical skills to make it work?  We’ll see.

I’m also working on some Rick Reilly-ish quips for Church in a few years.  Stuff like “CALL ME SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST BECAUSE I LIKE CHURCH ON SATURDAYS”.  It’s gonna be epic(ally bad).

ALE Projection: I’m 50-50 on Church redshirting.  If Ayoola can be our #3 tailback, then yes, I think Church redshirts.  But there’s a chance he plays.  There’s also a chance that all three tailbacks work out and we move Church to corner (like Justin Green).

RECRUITS I’M NOT THAT EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY

Ryan Frain (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Kicker
Indianapolis, IN (Scecina)
Best Offers: Georgia Tech

I always have to begin players listed in this category with a giant NO DISRESPECT disclaimer. I’m simply calling it like I see it. And this one I don’t get.

Yes, we lost Derek Dimke. But at kicker, we have Nick Immekus. And Taylor Zalewski. And Baron Von Mieghem. And Patrick Dunn. Out of those four we can’t find a solid kicker? To the point where we had to use a scholarship to get one?  I don’t get it.

(This means Frain will win the job and kick a 59 yarder to beat Northwestern)

(Just kidding. No chance we’d need a last-second field goal to beat Fitzee)

BJ Bello (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on Scout, not evaluated by ESPN)
Safety
New Lenox, IL (Lincoln Way West)
Best Offers: Toledo, Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Ball State

We do need safeties.  But I’m not sure if we need safeties who we flipped from Western Michigan.  Sorry, BJ, nothing personal, but the word “Western” followed by the word “Michigan” makes me flinch.  So while I’m glad you chose the orange and blue over that awful school from Kalamazoo, I’m still gonna keep one eye on you, because there’s a 17% chance you’re a Western Michigan spy.

Mason Monheim (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Linebacker
Orrville, OH
Best Offers: the entire MAC conference (seriously – 11 offers, 10 from the MAC and one from Illinois)

We need linebackers?  I didn’t know we needed linebackers.  After TJ Neal and Tajarvis Fuller, I kinda thought we didn’t need any more linebackers.  With BadNewsBrown and RBOBK (Houston Bates) and Dickinson and Cooper and Zeph Grimes and Earnest Thomas, I thought we were pretty set at linebacker.  Add Neal and Fuller to that mix, and I’m surprised we also added Monheim and…

Mike Svetina (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Linebacker
Cleveland, OH (St. Ignatius)
Best Offers: Syracuse, Air Force, Toledo

We need linebackers?  Gosh, I’m being unfair here.  Monheim and Svetina could be J Leman and Brit Miller, and here I am claiming there’s no room at the inn.

Wait – Svetina is in the 6′-2″/6′-3″ range, right?  Any chance we can bulk him up and move him to defensive end?  We can? GOOD.  I’m on board.  Welcome Mike Svetina.

RECRUITS I JUST DON’T KNOW THAT MUCH ABOUT

Robbie Bain (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Guard/Center
Bolingbrook, IL
Best Offers: Colorado State, Western Michigan, Bowling Green

I get to use this once per year, so I’m choosing to use it here: Offensive linemen are a crapshoot.  2-star guys go to the NFL, 4-star guys never find the field.  So with many offensive linemen recruits, I don’t pay much attention.  Redshirt, get stronger, understudy, let’s see what you got in 2014.

Daniel Rhodes (2-star on Rivals, unknown, unknown)
Tight End
Charlotte, NC (Independence)
Best Offers: can’t remember

Totally forgot about Rhodes. He was one of the guys that was on our committed list last year right up until signing day, and then he and Hunter Wells went elsewhere (Wells eventually ended up at Miami, FL, and Rhodes disappeared). Well, as of today, he’s back. And I can’t remember anything about him besides thinking “maybe he’ll grow into a left tackle” last year.

Taylor Barton (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Safety
Orlando, FL (Lake Highland)
Best Offers: Syracuse, Temple, Ball State

We need safeties.  He’s a safety.  That’s all I got.  His offer list isn’t strong, but he’s a defensive back from Florida, so that makes me happy.  Given the numbers issues, he might find the field sooner rather than later.

Jevaris Little (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on Scout, not evaluated by ESPN)
Cornerback
St. Petersburg, FL (Lakewood)
Best Offers: Indiana, Kansas, Toledo

This one came down to Illinois and Indiana, with Illinois coming out on top.  The good news: he’s a defensive back from Florida.  The bad news: this one came down to Illinois or Indiana.

Justin Hardee (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on Scout, not evaluated by ESPN)
Wide Receiver
Cleveland, OH (Glenville)
Best Offers: Toledo, Bowling Green, Ohio

There’s that Cleveland word again.  How many Browns fans can one team recruit?  Hardee is a teammate of Bentley and projects as a wide receiver.  But given his size and athleticism, I want him at safety.

Jason Robertson (2-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Wide Receiver
Frankfort, IL (Lincoln Way East)
Best Offers: Western Michigan (his only other listed offer)

Every year, there’s a guy in the class that I should pay more attention to but don’t. For whatever reason. It was Akeem Spence in 2009 – I was all fired up about the late flip of Justin Green from Ohio State to Illinois that I didn’t pay attention to a defensive tackle from Florida who committed late. This year, it’s Robertson. Scout and ESPN both list him as one of our top-5 recruits. Why would I more or less ignore an in-state receiver listed highly like that?

I promise to do better next year. And I’ll go watch more of his film later and maybe come back and edit this.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It is now time to DO. WORK.  As of right… NOW the grace period for Tim Beckman’s recruiting is over.  He found some nice pieces in the last 6 weeks, fought off some other suitors for guys like Ayoola and Powell, and filled some needs last minute with guys like Bentley.

But now – as in, right now – it is time to DO. WORK.  The 2013 class in-state keeps looking better by the day.  Guys like Ty Issac and Logan Tuley Tillman already look like 5-star possibilities.  Aaron Bailey MUST be our quarterback of the future.  We need top-end talent and soon.  At the high point of his recruiting, I believe Ron Zook had 19 four-star players on his roster at the beginning of 2009.  After the final whistle next November in Evanston, we’ll be down to one (Nathan Scheelhaase) for 2013.  One.

You can’t win 8 games in the Big Ten with one blue chipper.  You just can’t.  So it it imperative that Tim Beckman bring in talent talent talent in 2013.

OK, I can’t close with that.  The label for the 2012 class can’t be “hope we get some blue chippers in 2013″.  Guys like Teko Powell, TJ Neal, and Dami Ayoola could have named their school, and they picked Illinois.  Welcome, gentlemen.  Time for you to be the class that builds the foundation for the new era of Illini Football.  Where every other player is a linebacker.

Signing Day Breakdown 2011

There were two first posts on ALionEye.com.  The first was a test post on basketball signing day in November 2008.  Its contents are so embarrassing – I believe I predicted Houston in 2011 – that I think I made it private and un-viewable to the public.  It’s still there somewhere, so if we have the world’s most surprising turnaround and make some crazy run to the Final Four, I’ll pull it back out and point to it as clairvoyant.

The second was my football signing day breakdown in 2009.  That’s the first post that I emailed to a few friends to say “hey, I started that blog thing I’ve always talked about.”  Because I mark that as the anniversary of this site, I feel obligated to crank it up a notch each year.  Last year, my post was twice as long.  This year, I’m going for broke.  Everything you wanted to know about this recruiting class and more.  And then a little more.

INSTANT IMPACT PLAYERS:

Dondi Kirby (4-star on Rivals, 4-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Safety
Monroeville, PA

We’re probably pretty fortunate that he tore his ACL last June. Because if he hadn’t, I don’t think he’d be heading to Champaign. We never get athletic, rangy, tall safeties at Illinois. Because if they’re athletic and tall and rangy, they’re usually headed to Florida or USC. Just like Kirby likely was before he tore his ACL during a summer camp. Because of that, he missed his senior season. Because of that, the big programs that had offered him (like Florida and USC and Ohio State and Michigan and dozens of others) apparently backed off a bit. He took two visits in December (Iowa and Illinois) and settled on Illinois. Smart kid.

His signing probably has Vic Koenning doing backflips today. Koenning has said he wants 5 safeties and 5 cornerbacks in the rotation every game, and he just didn’t have the players to do that last year. If Kirby’s knee is ahead of schedule, he might find the rotation this fall.

ALE Projection: I’ll go conservative and say that he’ll redshirt to make sure his knee is 100% rehabbed. He’ll then back up Supo Sanni for a year before starting at safety for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons.

Clint Tucker (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Defensive Tackle
East St. Louis, IL

I read somewhere that he still had work to do to qualify. I certainly hope that was just a rumor. The biggest void on the current roster is at defensive tackle after Corey Liuget jumped to the NFL. Where will we look to fill that void? The two redshirt freshmen (Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe) and Clint Tucker.

Tucker was once a Kentucky commit, but he found himself Zooked at the beginning of September. He had a successful senior season (before his team was kicked out of the playoffs for having an ineligible player). Tucker made the NUC Gridiron Classic (high school all-star game) where he reportedly performed well against top competition. He’s already huge (close to 300 lbs.), so my main concern is that he gets too huge. If he can add more muscle to his giant frame, he could be a really special player as an upperclassman.

ALE Projection: If qualified, I think he cracks the two-deep next year, backing up Akeem Spence. I think Spence and Glenn Foster start, with Austin Teitsma backing up Foster and Clint Tucker backing up Spence. Ultimately, I’d love to play Spence and Tucker next to each other, but I think they both project for the same tackle spot.

Darrius Caldwell (3-star on Rivals, 4-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Defensive End / Bandit
Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech stole Illinois commit Tyler Marcordes in December. We returned the favor by stealing Caldwell away from Georgia Tech in January. How did we do it? My guess – we convinced him that Koenning’s bandit position was perfect for a smaller defensive end such as himself. Because it is.

My hope is that Caldwell starts at Bandit and then grows into a defensive end (the same as my hope for Justin Staples next year). Vic Koenning might not agree, but I want our bandits to grow into defensive ends and our linebackers to grow into bandits. Athletes athletes everywhere.

ALE Projection: If qualified (I hate throwing “if qualified” around again, but until the rumors settle and reports surface that Tucker and Caldwell are fully qualified, I’ll remain nervous), I think Caldwell sees a Brandon Denmark level of on-the-field play next fall. Special teams, a few plays here and there at Bandit, a few plays here and there as a rush linebacker.

Jon Davis (3-star on Rivals, 4-star on ESPN, 4-star on Scout)
Athlete
Louisville, KY

Coffee is for closers. Ron Zook gets coffee. Last Wednesday or Thursday, amid reports from Kentucky sites that Davis had decided to stick with Kentucky, Ron Zook got the final in-home visit. And when Davis announced for the Illini this afternoon, Ron Zook drank some coffee and bench-pressed a secretary. Big, athletic kid that could probably play anywhere from tailback to defensive end, Davis is probably on his way to being Paul Petrino’s favorite new toy.

I talked a lot last spring about the Petrino H-Back position. Part tight end, part fullback, part awesome. And then this fall, we didn’t really utilize the position except to add an extra tight end blocker (like Eddie Viliunas in the Northwestern game). My guess is that Zach Becker’s injury, combined with Evan Wilson’s true tight end-ness and Jay Prosch’s true fullback-ness, led us to not use a playmaker at the H-back position. Enter Davis. Probably this fall.

ALE Projection: Davis is 2011′s Evan Wilson: freshman who plays a huge role in the offense. Plue 12 catches. And a few carries. Ah, what the heck – and one pass.

Justin DuVernois (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Punter
Fort Lauderdale, FL

If this is the “impact players” category, he really should be at the top. Because he’s probably the most important recruit on this list.

Faced with a graduating punter and only two freshmen walk-ons on the roster, Zook decided to offer a scholarship to a punter. Duvernois comes from a great high school – they place a kicker or punter at a BCS school every year (the kid who kicked the winning field goal in the NCAA championship game – Wes Bynum – was a St. Thomas Aquinas kicker). DuVernois had a solid outing in his final game, too: 41 yard average and 3 of 5 punts downed inside the 20 in the Florida State Championship game.

ALE Projection: Starting punter vs. Arkansas State on Labor Day weekend (SO glad I don’t have to say “against Missouri” any more).

Zeph Grimes (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Safety
Bamburg, SC

He’s the “I just have a really good feeling about him” recruit of the 2011 class for me. Solid offer list (Michigan State, Arkansas, Ole Miss) that would have gotten better, in my opinion, had he not committed in April. Great high school program, solid measurables, and, most importantly, a Vic Koenning hand-picked safety prospect.

The players listed above are probably all certain freshman contributors. Grimes is not. But I’m putting him up here because it just feels right. Zeph Grimes – 2011 Camp Rantoul Camp Crush clubhouse leader.

ALE Projection: I’m going to wishcast him into Tavon Wilson’s eventual replacement. One (true freshman) year in a backup role, one year splitting starters minutes, 2 years as a solid starter at safety.

GREAT GETS

Pat Flavin (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Offensive Tackle
Lisle, IL

Probably our left weakside tackle of the future. Ok, I’ll be bolder: our left weakside tackle of the future. Maybe as early as 2012, although I see a scenario where Corey Lewis slides over to the left weakside in 2012 after a year at right strongside tackle in 2011.  Regardless, I’m really excited about Flavin.  6′-7″ and agile – everything you want in a weakside tackle.

ALE Projection: Oops – I already covered that.

Reilly O’Toole (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Quarterback
Wheaton, IL

OK, I’ll be honest. I should be much more excited about O’Toole than I am. 71% completion percentage on 262 passes totaling 3,187 yards and 42 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions as a senior, and I’m still on the fence? What is wrong with me?

Numbers – that’s what is wrong with me. O’Toole played for the best program in the state, 2-time defending state champ Wheaton Warrenville South. And any time a QB puts up gaudy numbers playing for a top program, I get scared. Is it the QB, or is it the top offense in the state? It’s probably both, and I should probably shut up, but I’m still concerned. Regardless, when Rivals moved him from the 25th best Pro-style QB prospect to the 8th best Pro-style QB prospect last week, I felt pretty good. The kid’s really good. Probably.

ALE Projection: Starting QB for the Illini in 2014 and 2015. To accomplish that, he’ll need to redshirt this fall. Redshirt, 2 years as a backup, 2 years as a star.

Chris Boles (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Offensive Guard
Toledo, OH

Boles is probably the best interior lineman recruit we have in 2011. And he’s probably the most ready to contribute early. At 315 pounds, he might need to drop a few pounds, not gain a few like the rest of the offensive line recruits.

But I have a secondary motive for liking Boles. I think he might get a look at defensive tackle. When I saw some film of him at some lineman camp, for some reason he reminded me of Brandon Moore. And since Brandon Moore was a pretty good defensive tackle that turned out be a solid NFL offensive guard, I made the connection. We need some big bodies at defensive tackle – maybe give Boles a shot?

ALE Projection: Ok, I’m probably dreaming of him at defensive tackle. Let’s redshirt him, give him a few years to learn the system, and then let him compete for a guard spot after, say, Hugh Thornton graduates.

Matt Lacosse (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Athlete / Tight End
Naperville, IL

Lacosse feels like one of those Iowa tight ends we’ve grown to hate. Best athlete in his school, played QB, projects as a tight end in college. I think Iowa has had 94 such players the last 10 years. I’m thinking he redshirts to build strength and learn his new position, and then he finds the field in 2012, building to a starting role in 2014 and 2015. Wait, I jumped ahead again, didn’t I?

ALE Projection: I’m thinking he redshirts to build strength and learn his new position, and then he finds the field in 2012, building to a starting role in 2014 and 2015.

RECRUITS I’M EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY

Henry Dickinson (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Linebacker
Memphis, TN

I love this kid’s film. (If you’re a Rivals subscriber, go watch his film on his profile page here) Every time I watch it, I wonder why he’s not rated higher. I already hate myself for saying this, but he looks a bit like Brit Miller. Not as fast, but he appears to have the same instincts. I’d love to have another Brit Miller.

ALE Projection: Redshirt, bigger/stronger/faster, start to make an impact during his redshirt sophomore year.

Jeremy Whitlow (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Wide Receiver
Cleveland, OH

Another film thing. Go watch the footwork at the :50 mark of this video.  Seriously, I’ll wait. Go check it out.

Loved the little jab step to get the corner to open up and then the fly-by, didn’t you?  No he’s not a burner.  He’s not the biggest guy, or the strongest.  If you wanted to, you could play the “he kind of runs weird” card.  But I’m still excited about him.  He showed some nice YAC vision in that video, and I’m excited to see what he looks like in Rantoul.

ALE Projection:  You know what? I’m already over 2,000 words, we’re not even halfway through the class, and I’ll likely put “Redshirt, bigger/stronger/faster, start to make an impact during his redshirt sophomore year” for the majority of the players remaining.  I’ll end this “projection” feature and just talk about the players from here on out.

Jordan Frysinger (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Athlete / Tailback / Slot Receiver
Corning, NY

Certainly a head-scratcher when he verballed. We had just put together a bowl season, which meant we had a shot at closing the class with a strong push. And then we take a flyer on a lacrosse player from New York? Really?

Given the time to look at some film and study this a little more, I like the signing. Many times, I like signings like this more than I like the 2-star kids that visited several junior days, did the camp circuit, and came away with only MAC or Sun-Belt offers. Frysinger is out of nowhere. But he’s a great athlete with quick feet – I’m excited to see what Paul Petrino can design for him in the future.

Ted Karras (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Offensive Guard
Indianapolis, IN

OK, I’ll admit it. It’s for the name. And the Mongo jokes.

That, and I’m a sucker for bloodlines.  Ted Karras III will be the seventh member of his family to play Big Ten football, the most famous being Alex Karras (Ted III’s great uncle), who played at Iowa and went on to a Pro-Bowl career with the Detroit Lions before finding his true calling as George Papadapolis.

All of this, of course, gives me a Luke Butkus vibe. Karras be an awesome interior lineman for the Illini simply because of his name.

Chris Jones (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Defensive Tackle
Jacksonville, FL

You can always count on Dan Disch to pull in a Jacksonville kid. With Jones, he waited until today to pull him in. Jones was an NC State commitment, but switched to Illinois today.

I’m excited about Jones mostly because of what position he plays and what area he hails from. There was an excellent article in Sports Illustrated last week about the number of NFL defensive linemen who went to high school in the south. The map linked in that article is pretty stunning.  Given our recent success with defensive tackles from Florida (two guys named Liuget and Spence), I’m thrilled that Jones made the switch this morning.

RECRUITS I’M NOT THAT EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY

Donovonn Young (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Running Back
Katy, TX

I’m sorry. I really am. I’ve tried for three weeks to build up my excitement for Young. “He was injured his junior year and fell off the map”, I’d tell myself. “Look at his numbers and his film – how does that not scream BCS tailback?”

I haven’t been able to get there. I’ll keep trying. But when I try, I can’t get past the fact that if we hadn’t offered, he’d probably be heading to McNeese State or Gardner-Webb. Katy, Texas isn’t exactly Nowheresville. Why no offers? Why wouldn’t a lower-end Texas school take a flyer on him?

I might come around in a few weeks. He did look like high school Jason Ford on film, spin moves and leg drive and whatnot. But today, I just can’t get past the McNeese State.

Kenny Knight (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Wide Receiver
Beverly Hills, MI

I watched both Knight and Whitlow’s film, and I liked Whitlow better. But I will say this – Knight has the most upside, mostly because you can’t teach height. Knight looks big and strong on film, but he also looks a bit slow. Best case: Walter Young 2.0. Worst case: (name redacted because I always feel bad about throwing a former Illini player under the bus.)

Ralph Cooper (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Linebacker
Winnsboro, SC

I know, right? Big, strong, fast linebacker from a recruiting area where Vic Koenning and Ron West loved to find big, strong, fast linebackers when they were coaching at Clemson, and I’m not excited? What’s wrong with me (Part II)?

To be honest, I’m probably sour on Cooper because of his size. We’ve had success of late with rangy middle linebackers – the thick, stout middle linebacker recruits like Evan Frierson and Dustin Jefferson, just haven’t worked out, with the Disch/Mallory defense nor the Koenning defense. That’s what worries me about Cooper. He’s 225 now – when he bulks up and adds muscle, can he play linebacker in this defense at 240 pounds? (Well, come to think of it, Jonathan Brown can, so maybe my worries aren’t warranted.)

Josh Ferguson (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Running Back
Naperville, IL

It’s the size. He’s listed as 5′-8″, but when you watch film of him in high school, he’ll had the ball to the official and you’d swear he’s 5′-6″.

Yes, he’s lighting quick, and we can always use speed. But it’s hard to get past his height. You have to be a crazy good athlete to overcome 5′-7″ on the football field. I’m just not sure Ferguson is quick enough to overcome his size.  I have this hangup where you need to be Jeff Demps or LaMichael James fast to overcome 5′-7″.  Hopefully, Ferguson gets me past my hangup.

Tony Durkin (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Center
Tinley Park, IL

Again, just a feeling.  I’m probably more excited about Karras simply because of his name.  But I always try to be practical when it comes to recruiting and offensive linemen.  We bring in 4 or 5 every year, and typically only 40% or so ever find the field.  Some transfer, some remain career backups, and some find there way to the starting line.  For this class, I’m high on Flavin and Karras and Boles, which means I’m not high on Durkin and…

Scott McDowell (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Offensive Tackle
Hinsdale, IL

Last year, we brought in Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic to play tackle. One of them will make the two deep. One of them will go the career backup/transfer route. It happens every year. This year, at tackle, we’re bringing in Flavin and McDowell. One of them will be Jeff Allen in a few years. The other will be Craig Wilson. No offense to McDowell – I mean, I could make a ton of “and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in” jokes over the next five years – but I’m a Flavin guy.

RECRUITS I JUST DON’T KNOW THAT MUCH ABOUT

Willie Beavers (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Defensive Tackle
Lathrup Villiage, MI

A 6′-6″ defensive tackle? OK. But, um, what?

Valdon Cooper (3-star on Rivals, 1-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
ATH / Defensive Back
Elberton, GA

Track guy with speed. Projects as a defensive back. That’s all I got.

Nick North (2-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Safety
Hollywood, FL

I should know more about him. I need to watch more film. Safeties from south Florida are good 93.3% of the time. It’s science.

Kenny Nelson (2-star on Rivals, 3-star on Scout, 2-star on Scout)
Defensive End
Detroit, MI

A saw some grainy film on Nelson, and he looked, I don’t know, too thick in his legs for a defensive end. Move inside to DT, perhaps?

Chris O’Connor (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Defensive End
Tinley Park, IL

Haven’t watched any film, for some reason. I don’t know much except for 240 lb. defensive linemen, they need a redshirt and a few years in the weight room before they’re ready for the Big Ten.

Eaton Spence (2-star on Rivals, unrated on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Defensive Back
Belle Glade, FL

This one was out of nowhere. We’re supposedly out of scholarships, we already have a cornerback from Belle Glade, Florida, and suddenly Spence is a commitment and JT Thornton (his teammate) isn’t. That’s truly the extent of my knowledge. Were I to write his bio today, it would say “From Belle Glade, Florida. Teammate of one-time Illini commitment JT Thornton.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

A solid finish for the Zooker. I was skeptical, but he took his bowl season and sold it to Pat Flavin and Dondi Kirby and Darrius Caldwell and Jon Davis. I’d say 6 of the 10 best recruits in this class came since the end of the season. One (maybe two) of those 6 arrived today.

Where does this class rank in the Big Ten? Definitely behind Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State. But with the additions today of Davis and Jones, I like it better than Wisconsin (not much sizzle) and Penn State (very small class), and maybe even Iowa. But that’s just because I hate Iowa.

The bad news? There are 27 players on this list. We can only enroll 25. That means two players (maybe more) wont make it into school this summer (or will accept grayshirts to get a 2012 scholarship instead). If, say, Jones and Caldwell don’t qualify, this class takes a hit. Jury remains out until July.

But for now, I’m very pleased. Probably a B- class that moved to a solid B with two great athletes getting Zooked on signing day.

Zook gets coffee.

Signing Day Summary – 2010

The first official ALE post was a signing day summary a year ago.  Granted, I didn’t post again until the spring game, and then I didn’t start posting regularly until June, and then I didn’t tell anyone about the blog until August.  But the point remains – happy birthday, little blog.

So now, for the first time, there’s precedent for a post.  I present to you my summary of Illini Football Signing Day 2010, in the same format as last year:

IMMEDIATE IMPACT PLAYERS:Chandler

Chandler Whitmer (4-star QB, Elite 11 invitee)

For some reason, Whitmer’s pedigree is being lost in all of the negativity directed towards this disappointing recruiting class.  Yes, it’s a poor class.  Leanest of the Zook tenure.  Low on studs, high on projects.

But Chandler Whitmer is good.  Probably really good.  Maybe awesome.

Making the Elite 11 camp (think “McDonald’s All American game for Quarterbacks”) is no small feat. Only one other Illini QB (Juice) has made the camp in its 12 year existence. And when they handed out the awards at the end of the camp, Mr. Whitmer was named “Most Accurate” and finished 3rd in the MVP voting. So it’s strange to peruse all of my Illini bookmarks and not see more Whitmer love. Of course, Bob Weiner loves him, and that’s probably enough for me:

Robert Weiner was out to prove to some of his players that it didn’t take much for him to spot top-shelf talent.

“We were in Champaign at Illinois’ camp and one of my players was joking around with me telling me I couldn’t spot the top players,” said Weiner, the head football coach at Tampa’s Plant High and one of the top prep quarterback coaches in the Southeast. “I told him I could tell in two throws.”

So Weiner watched an undersized quarterback with a gun sling it twice and said “that’s the one, right there.”

Whitmer will have every opportunity to win the starting job as a freshman.  He’s enrolled right now, taking classes and watching film.  I’m really excited to see this kid in spring ball.

Before we move on, a little more press from last summer so you understand that Whitmer is one of the top-5 Illini QB recruits in the last 25 years.  Here’s a blurb from the Orlando Elite 11 regional camp, where he was chosen as MVP over Brion Carnes (Nebraska’s 4-star QB of the future):

Whitmer was a ball boy for the Elite 11 event a year ago, and he held his own against the likes of Aaron Murray, A.J. McCarron and Co. in the 2009 class. He is now a bit taller and has bulked up some. He was polished, nicely groomed and displayed solid footwork, ball speed and arm strength. His natural wrist velocity gave him an edge against the wind and aided in his overall accuracy. At this stage, Illinois, Arizona and Stanford have offered, and he is also receiving interest from Northwestern, Notre Dame and Purdue.

And from the Illinois regional NFTC camp, where Whitmer was chosen as the MVP over players like Robert Bolden (Penn State’s 4-star QB of the future), Devin Gardner (Michigan’s 4-star QB of the future), and Joe Boisture (Michigan State’s 4-star QB of the future):

The quarterback position was the deepest it’s been all tour-long in Champaign, but it was the local pocket passer Whitmer bound for Illinois that emerged as the group’s MVP over a slew of other outstanding prospects. Whitmer was the day’s most consistent passer, showing great accuracy, footwork and coachability. He doesn’t have A-plus arm strength but more than makes up for it with quick decision-making and a hair-trigger release.

This kid is pretty good at throwing the football in the direction of faster athletes who like to catch it and run.

GREAT GETS:

Darius Millines (3-Star WR from Delray Beach, FL)

Watch this Youtube video, and you’ll see why this guy was such a nice pickup late in the recruiting game.  Whitmer and Millines make this class for me, and I’d love to see them get all Kittner-to-Lloyd over the next 4 years.  There are rumors of grade issues, and rumors that Florida and Alabama backed off their offers because of grade issues, and rumors that the grade issues were resolved this fall and he’s good to go.  So believe what you want.  All I know is that the people of the Commonwealth of West Virginia (it’s a commonwealth, right? no?) are very upset he’s not headed their way.  And in a year where not much went our way, it’s nice that someone is jealous.

In ESPN’s class rankings, they put Millines as our best recruit, just missing their ESPN 150 (he’s #162).  If his grade issues are truly resolved, you’ll probably see him in the two-deep this fall.

Earnest Thomas (3-star DB from Orchard Lake, MI)

To show you how thin this recruiting class is (rankings-wise), last year there were seven consensus 4-stars and at least five 3-stars with big-time offer lists.  This year, there’s only one consensus 4-star and only two 3-stars with big-time offer lists.  Guh.

But don’t let that diminish your excitement over Whitmer, Millines, and Earnest Thomas. The latter was a UCLA commit last summer, de-committed, flirted with Penn State, considered Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and West Virginia, and settled on Illinois.  I know – I don’t know why either.  But I’ll take it.

From watching his film, I think he’s the perfect hybrid.  A lot of safety, a little linebacker, and a little corner.  Groom him as the nickel back and set him loose in 2011.

GUYS I’M EXCITED ABOUT BUT HAVE VERY LITTLE REASONING AS TO WHY:

Ryan Lankford (3-star WR from Jacksonville, FL)

I love guys with solid bloodlines.  And Lankford’s dad spent 10 years in the NFL with the Dolphins.

You don’t have to watch the whole film, but check out the punt return at the 2:25 mark of this video.  Kid is fluid with a nice accelerator.  I’m planning to use a few the-kid-was-under-recruited standbys with him: both “small school kid who was overlooked” AND “football bloodlines in his family”.  All that’s missing is “word is, USC and Alabama coaches just discovered his tape on the internet and were prepared to offer” to complete the trifecta.

Jonathan Brown (3-star LB from Memphis)

It’s been a long, long time since we signed a linebacker that was projected by the scouting services as an inside linebacker.  All of the linebackers in the 2009, 2008, and 2007 classes projected as outside ‘backers.  The last prototypical inside linebacker was Anterio Jackson in 2006 (now an offensive guard).  Before that?  Brit Miller.

When he looks over the defensive recruits he gets to coach, I think Vic Koenning might be most pleased with Jonathan Brown.  It’s nice to have a versatile athlete like Earnest Thomas coming in, but it’s really, really nice to have a guy who you could count on as your run stuffer.  Especially in the Big Ten.

Jay Prosch (2-star fullback, Mobile, AL)

The unsung hero of the 2007 Rose Bowl team? (I mean, besides the most underrated Illini player in the last decade – Antonio Steele.) The offensive unsung hero? Russ Weil. Not only did he enjoy opening holes for Rashard, he enjoyed blowing people up on special teams.

I like guys who like to hit people.  Jay Prosch likes to hit people.  Using a trick I learned in math class:  I like guys who like to hit people. Jay Prosch likes to hit people. = I like Jay Prosch.

Michael Heitz (3-star OL from Vermont, IL)

The Wisconsin Way.  1) Find a big farm boy who sees 6:00 a.m. weightlifting sessions as “getting up late”.  2) Redshirt him, put more weight on him, and teach him how to maul people. 3) Plug him in at offensive tackle and move the chains.

Miles Osei (3-star QB from Mt. Prospect, IL)

I’m getting a Johnny Johnson vibe from him.  In the summer of 1993, I could be heard telling people “between Jeff Hecklinski and Scott Weaver, we are SET at QB for the next few years”.  And then come to find that the unheralded QB recruit was the best of the bunch.

If nothing else, he’s Eddie McGee – a decent backup, and a promising receiver.

GUYS I’M JUST NOT THAT EXCITED ABOUT AND I HAVE NO REASON AS TO WHY:

Brandon Denmark (2/3-star DE/ATH from Tallahassee, FL)

When you see him on film, he kind of reminds you of a young Will Davis.  Big + athletic, played everywhere in high school, ready to rush the QB in college.  But all it took was reading a rumor on some message board somewhere that we had to promise him that we wouldn’t make him a DE if he picked us over Arkansas.  And suddenly, I had Cordale Scott flashbacks and have transferred my hatred for his situation towards Mr. Denmark.  Sorry, Brandon.  Nothing personal.

Simon Cvijanovic (2-star OL from Cleveland, OH)

I’ve never known less about an Illini recruit.  He committed during the Petrino/Koenning/revamp the coaching staff days, so I couldn’t give him my typical video/article search after a player verbals.   And then I forgot.  And then he didn’t waver with his commitment, so there was no message board chatter.  And then his fax came in yesterday, and I was all “oh yeah – totally forgot about him. He any good?” So then I watched his official film on the school website, and one of the highlights showed him continuing to block while a fumble was bouncing around behind him.  I’m now labeling him as someone who “needs more awareness on the field” and placing him here.

Mark Wilson (3-star LB from Tallahassee, FL)

My yearly “man, I should be more excited about him, because he has some pretty solid offers, but I’m just not seeing it when I watch him on tape” recruit.  This should be very, very good news for us, because 3 years ago I said the same thing about Miami Thomas.

He hits hard, which is good, because Koenning needs hitters.  Maybe it’s just that he looks a bit awkward running laterally.  I don’t know.

Trulon Henry (2-star JUCO Safety)

It’s Bo Flowers fault. I was so excited when Flowers chose football after he gave up on minor league baseball. According to me at the time, he was to bring “maturity” and “leadership” to our secondary. And then he just looked like an old guy back there.

So I’m sorry, Trulon, that I have to place you on this part of the list. It’s just that when I hear of your “maturity” and “leadership”, I have this facial tic that kicks in.

GUYS I HAVE VERY LITTLE COMMENT ABOUT BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THEM:

Spencer Harris (2-star WR from Greenwood, AR) – Weakest offer list of any of the recruits, which means, of course, he has the most to prove. Prove away, Spence.
Shawn Afryl (3-star OL from Niles, IL) – It’s pronounced uh-FREEL. That’s all I got.
Ean Days (2-star DB from Kingsland, GA) – Tailback in high school, Zook said in the press conference he will be tried at Safety.
Evan Wilson (3-star TE from Woodstock, GA) – We need tight ends, but he might need 2 or 3 years before he’s ready.
A.J. Williams (2-star TE/WR from Chesapeake, VA) – Big tight end who was recruited as a wideout.
Jake Howe (2-star DL from McHenry, IL) – With Prosch’s commitment, he moves from fullback to the defensive line.
Alex Hill (3-star OL from Slidell, LA) – Could be solid if he loses some weight. Projects as a center.
Austin Teitsma (2-star DL from Glen Ellyn, IL) – Sometimes, these guys work out great. Lower level prospect looking at MAC schools, dying for a Big Ten offer, and after they get it their career is defined by what they told the coach when they got the offer: “I won’t let you down.”

And now, the sad part.  For the most part, 2010 Illini Football recruiting will be known not just for who we didn’t get (Kyle Prater, anyone?), but for who we had and then lost.  4-star C.J. Fiedorowicz left and went to Iowa (eww).  4-star Corey Cooper to Nebraska (sigh).  Dan Foose to Florida State (eek), Daniel Easterly to Missouri (ick), Dexter McDonald to Kansas (yuck), Zach Bolton to Utah (what?), Andy Gallik to Boston College (ok, stop).  Add those seven and shave off some of our backup recruits, and this is a decent-to-good class.  Remove them, and, well, welcome to Zook’s worst class.

With something to prove.

Signing Day Summary

IMMEDIATE IMPACT PLAYERS:

Terry Hawthorne (4-star WR from ESL, Parade Mag #1 receiver in the nation)
I get a Deron Williams vibe from Hawthorne. Part of a tandem of top recruits at his school, all the way until the end of his senior season the other guy was hyped more, and near the end articles like “you know, Terry Hawthorne might be the best player in the entire Midwest” start popping up.
I’ve said this before, but I think our top three recruits this decade are as follows:

1. Rashard Mendenhall
2. Arrelious Benn
3. Terry Hawthorne

Here’s the most amazing stat about Hawthorne: In ESL’s 5 playoff games, he intercepted SEVEN passes, and, AND, ran 4 of them back for touchdowns. He’s that slick, speedy, athletic WR who drives you nuts on punt return one play by running backwards and then breaks off an 82 yard TD on a reverse the very next play.

We probably had to make a “we’ll keep you on offense” promise to keep Oklahoma away. But I still want him at free safety.  And returning punts.  And punting – yes, punting.  He averaged 45 yards per punt in high school, and can be the world’s first Wildcat Punter if we let him.

GREAT GETS:

Nathan Scheelhaase (4-star QB from Kansas City Rockhurst)

Everyone should read the News Gazette article on Scheelhaase. He’s a Lou Tepper dream recruit, except he’s talented, fast, and the 7th best dual threat QB in the country. And, as this MaxPreps article states, Nathan Scheelhaase to Terry Hawthorne may not sound pretty, but it will look pretty in Champaign for years to come.

Spring practice in 2010 will be loads of fun, as 5th year senior Eddie McGee, rs-soph Jacob Charest, and rs-frosh Nathan Scheelhaase battle it out to replace Juice.

Lendell Buckner (4-star DT from Chicago Leo)

Big DT who will hit the weights and hopefully show up in the rotation after Brent graduates and Liuget leaves early. He’s just a very, very large man with huge feet and hands. That’s what you want in a DT.

Justin Green (4-star RB/CB from Louisville)

Stole him from Ohio State by promising him we’d give him a shot in the backfield (tOSU was going to put him at corner). Won the Kentucky State Championship in the 100 meters running a 10.67. Blazing fast.

I’m most excited about this guy because of Aaron Brown at TCU. Brown was the pre-season Mountain West POTY before getting injured this past season. But he was a Mike Schultz (our new OC) project. He was a track star in high school (ran a 10.55 in the 100) that had played in only one high school football game. Schultz recruited him to TCU as a football player and turned him into a scatback in his run-out-of-the-spread offense. Schultz was then heavily involved in recruiting Justin Green away from tOSU, undoubtedly to do the same thing. Daddy like.

Michael Buchanan (4-star DE from Homewood-Flossmoor)

Tall 4-star DE (6’-6”) who is thin right now. Give him a redshirt, let him work out 24/7, and introduce a corner-rushing rs-soph DE to the Big Ten in 2011. I especially enjoyed this one due to a Purdue tool showing up on several recruiting message boards saying how he was a lock to Purdue because of “stuff that went on at Homewood-Flossmoor” during our recruitment of Russ Ellington and Supo Sanni. Fail.

GUYS I’M EXCITED ABOUT BUT HAVE VERY LITTLE REASONING AS TO WHY:

Walt Aikens (2-star safety from North Carolina)

Safety that was completely off the recruiting radar (hence the 2-star), and then all of the sudden there’s offers pouring in from North Carolina and Louisville and Clemson and Illinois. Any time I see a guy like that, I think of Jon Asamoah (was a 2-star headed to Northern Illinois and all of the sudden we’re fighting Wisconsin and Northwestern and Cincinnati for his services). And I love Jon Asamoah.

Eric Watts (3-star ATH from Florida)

He’s from Florida. He’s fast. He projects as a linebacker. The end.

Steve Hull (3-star WR/DB from Cincinnati)

My love for him is simply based on a couple highlights (one was a 100 yard INT return for touchdown that made the top plays on Sportscenter). And the catches he makes on the INT and the deep bomb in this video

make me want him ball hawking at safety. I can’t bear to take another year with only 5 interceptions. I want this guy at safety. (See a theme here?)

Hugh Thornton (3-star OT from Ohio)

Has that huge, athletic, tall frame that screams left tackle. Was our highest ranked 3-star per Rivals. Again, redshirt, 3 years lifting weights, and debut him at LT at the beginning of the 2012 season.

Bud Golden (4-star RB from Cincinnati)

His highlights are just… OK. But he has an awesome name. Which means he will be awesome.

GUYS I’M JUST NOT THAT EXCITED ABOUT AND I HAVE NO REASON AS TO WHY:

Leon Hill (4-star OL from Chicago Leo)

Any time a guy is projected as a guard, for some reason, I get worried. We run the spread option, so we need o-linemen getting out in space. When I hear “projects as a guard”, I think “run-blocking road grader”, which isn’t a very good fit for our offense.
He’ll now go on to 3 years all-Big 10.

Justin Lattimore (2-star TE from Florida)

Besides us and Iowa, his offers were MAC-ish. And I still have too many Ron Turner nightmares to get excited over MAC recruits. I have big hopes for Hubie Graham and London Davis in the future, so I don’t see room for Lattimore.

Greg Fuller (3-star fullback from Chicago)

Granted, I haven’t seen Schultz’s offense yet, but it doesn’t sound like he used a traditional fullback much at TCU. So I’m not sure where a Carey Davis clone fits in this offense. Can he play linebacker??

Jake Feldmeyer (2-star OL from Ohio)

“Projects as a guard”. “Chose Illinois over offers from several MAC schools”. Well, there you go.

GUYS I HAVE VERY LITTLE COMMENT ABOUT BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THEM:

Darryl Lee (2-star LB from Florida) Didn’t sign?
Aaron Gress (3-star JuCo LB) Might play strong safety?
Andrew Carter (3-star OL from Florida) I should know more, because he’s pretty good.
Tommie Hopkins (3-star DB from ESL) Teammate of Hawthorne
Tim Kynard (2-star DL from Toledo) I got nothin’
Akeem Spence (3-star DT from Florida) Co-nothin’
Joelil Thrash (2-star DB from DC) A Locks recruit I was surprised to see hang on