Looks Like University Of Illinois - Isaiah Gay

Feb 10, 2017

I think I need to write four of these. I covered the signing day verbals in the Signing Day Breakdown post, but each player should get his very own LLUOI post. Let's start with this surprise recruit, added today, and work backwards.

Isaiah Gay announced that he would be attending Illinois today at his high school. Yes, 10 days after signing day. According to this article, he was nearly ready to sign with Elon University (an FCS program in North Carolina) last Wednesday when he started to get serious interest from FBS programs like East Carolina and Illinois. He postponed his signing day ceremony waited a week, and signed with Illinois today.

Which kind of reminds me of DeJazz Woods. Woods was all set to sign with Savannah State in 2010 when we lost a few players to flips (including Corey Cooper to Nebraska on signing day). Ron Zook's staff convinced Woods not to sign with anyone, he visited that following weekend, and signed with Illinois the following week.

And that one went as you'd expect most projects to go. Buried deep on the depth chart for three years as he tried all four spots along the line, then in the rotation as a redshirt junior, then co-starter at Leo his final year (a bowl season). It's certainly the long play, but he went from "guy headed to Savannah State" to "guy contributing on a bowl team".

I'm not sure I'd call Isaiah Gay a "project", though. I'd say "sleeper's sleeper" is more like it. Guy headed to Elon who receives an 11th hour FCS stay of execution offer? That's as sleepy as a sleeper gets.

In the video posted on FightingIllini.com, Coach Phair mentioned how Gay was "found by our personnel department". Which likely means "James Kirkland found him". Kirkland was a scout on Lovie's staff with the Bears. After Lovie left, he went to work for the Browns, and when Lovie got the Illinois job, he hired him as our "recruiting analyst". Which more or less means "turn over every stone and find a kid like this".

Now, maybe it's info that comes in through an assistant coach or someone else in the personnel department. Maybe we received a tip about a kid in North Carolina who was worth a second look. Or maybe Kirkland just goes through every recruit on earth and keeps a stack of "we should really take a look at this kid" players. Regardless, that part of Lovie's recruiting staff was set up to do just this: find players under rocks.

And in this case, Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Now, there's no guarantee that just because Lovie set up a department like this and they found a player like this, he's definitely a sleeper and will definitely contribute. Five years from now you're only going to remember about 60% of the names in this class, and, a kid we flipped from Elon late is likely near the top of that "don't' remember" list. Remember Daniel Rhodes, the kid Zook found under a rock in North Carolina back in 2011. He enrolled a year later under Beckman (Beckman honored Zook's "you'll have a scholarship next year", he lasted one year, didn't prove to be a Division I player (brought in as a tight end, moved to defensive tackle, didn't work out), and now you don't even remember his name. So, really, long road ahead for this kid.

But hey, the film looks fun. He appears to be playing lower-end competition, but as Phair mentions in the video, he has some burst. Now, there's a long road between "burst from the edge" and "contributing college player" (remember LaKeith Walls? we could never harness his burst). But hey, the film looks fun.

When I first heard about this, I'll be honest, my very first thought was "first ever half-Cruise recruit?" I've never given out the dreaded half Cruise, but a kid we flipped from Elon sounds like a candidate. After watching the film, I do think we found some raw material here that we can work with.

So I think I'll land on 1.5 Cruises. A project to be sure, but if he does work out, all hail the personnel department.

Isaiah Gay - One and one-half Tom Cruises.


DB50 on February 11 @ 02:14 AM CST

I agree Robert, the competition he faces on film is nothing like the BIG will challenge him with, if & when, he makes the rotation. I do, however, love the burst he has in his first step, his acceleration and punishing finish. Time will tell if he'll turn out to be a "diamond in the rough".

Sweetchuck13 on February 11 @ 03:22 AM CST

What position does he play? I'm guessing DL since Phair was involved?

DB50 on February 11 @ 04:25 AM CST

DE/Rush LB

Groundhogday on February 11 @ 05:52 AM CST

A signing this late is usually a sign of desperation, but we are hardly hurting for DE in this class. Gay is a plus athlete with the frame to get much bigger. We'll find out in a couple of years if he is a B1G football player, but I like that when we go for a sleeper he has a high ceiling.

22 on February 11 @ 11:35 AM CST

Only thing I'd add, this kid is really young. Will arrive on campus as a 17 year old. Plenty of upside here, would be nice if he can keep that speed and burst as he gets bigger.

NC_OrangeKrush on September 11 @ 05:44 PM CDT

9/9/17 The day Robert thinks about the idea of Re-Tom Cruising players..

Way to go Isaiah, representing Rocky Mount and NC proudly!

ATLIllini on September 12 @ 09:55 AM CDT

I lived in Rocky Mount for three years. It was cool to see us pick up a kid from Nash County.

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