The 90 Illini - 90~86

Jun 04, 2018

Yep - the season is 90 days away. Which means that it's time for The 90 Illini to return. Every five days or so (sometimes seven, sometimes three), I'll put up another post, counting down the 90 most-important Illini players this season. Once we reach #1, the season is here.

This year, honestly, it was a little difficult picking the final few spots (which are almost always walkons). The last spot came down to The Other Australian On The Team (Zac Holman), The Guy Who Gets To Tell His Grandkids That He Scored A Touchdown At Ohio State (Cam Miller), and the guy who landed the #90 spot below. Why did Holman and Miller miss out? Holman because he switched to receiver and I can't really see him cracking the lineup there, and Miller because we added four quarterbacks since he was out there scoring a touchdown against Ohio State and it's doubtful that a walkon QB gets into that position again. There are other walkons with an outside shot at playing time at other positions, so we have to start with them. Such as...

90. PC Daniel II

Defensive Back
IMG Academy / Bradenton, Florida
True Freshman (walkon, 5 years to play 4)

What I Know About Him:

He's a preferred walkon in the 2018 class who graduated in December and enrolled early. And because we were so thin at safety this spring (injury rehabs for the starters, most of the freshmen aren't here yet), Daniel was one of the four safeties in the rotation during the spring scrimmage. And he got a "welcome to college football" moment as Reggie Corbin (or was it Ra'Von Bonner) blew right past him on their way to the endzone. One of those "wow, college football players are pretty fast" moments that every player - scholarship or walkon - goes through their freshman year.

Daniel started his high school career at Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest so he was a North Shore kid who went to IMG Academy in Bradenton and now back to Illinois. I think I remember hearing him say that he grew up an Illini fan, but I'm only 63% certain of that. Mostly because he's from the North Shore and my Chicago friends tell me that North Shore people are too embarrassed to say they're Illini fans.

What I Expect From Him:

Not much this year. He's at #90 on this list, after all. If the rotation on the field on Saturdays is around 55 players, well, putting him here means I'm saying he's a long way from getting on the field.

But he did make this list over the other walkons because we're so thin at safety. We know Bennett Williams and Stanley Green will start. But after that, anyone who can play safety is a possibility. So Daniel needs to be on this list.

89. Alex Pihlstrom

Tight End
Glenbard West High School / Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Redshirt Freshman (walkon, 4 years to play 4)

What I Know About Him:

You know how this story goes. He had several FCS offers and could have gotten some money to play football in college, but he wanted a shot at Big Ten football so he turned down the scholarship offers and walked on at Illinois.

And if there's a position where walkons can succeed, it's tight end. Remember Eddie Viliunas? Walkon to starting tight end. Nate Echard? Walkon to starting tight end. If you can block, you're going to play.

What I Expect From Him:

This is hard to project because I haven't seen the offense yet. We'll, I saw some of the offense in the spring scrimmage, but I'm still not certain how the tight ends will be used. If this was last year, I'd have a really good idea of where Pihlstrom could find a way to break into the rotation. But with this offense, I'm still not sure yet.

Which likely means a second "redshirt" season for Pihlstrom. He'll use up a year of eligibility, of course, but I doubt he finds the field. This will be a "Cory Patterson gets to know his tight ends and learns which ones can block and which ones can catch". My guess - later in his career, Pihlstrom makes a little noise as one of the guys who can block.

88. Caleb Griffin

Danville High School / Danville, Illinois
True Freshman (5 years to play 4)

What I Know About Him:

He's likely our kicker of the future. Maybe as soon as 2019. The Kohl's Rankings put him as the #12 kicker nationally for the 2018 class. (#10 and #11 committed to Virginia and Vandy; #13 and #14 committed to Texas and Michigan, so that ranking of #12 means he's a legit kicking prospect.)

He's also a "blueshirt", which means he's technically a member of the 2019 recruiting class. You're limited to 25 players per class, and we were already full with 25 players, but a blueshirt is a player who wasn't "recruited" - no official visits, no coaching visits - who joins the team in the fall and "counts" towards the recruiting class in the spring. So, technically, he's the first member of the 2019 recruiting class. Except he'll be out there at camp in August.

What I Expect From Him:

I'm thinking this is a certain redshirt. Lovie has gone with Chase McLaughlin as his kicker the last two seasons, so it's expected that McLaughlin wins the job again as a senior. McLaughlin is consistent - 12 for 17 as a sophomore, 12 for 17 as a junior - so he's going to be the guy. Griffin can redshirt and get acclimated to college.

And then there's a battle next summer for the starting kicking spot. James McCourt will be a redshirt junior and Griffin will be a redshirt freshman. May the best man win.

87. Matthew Robinson

JSerra Catholic High School / San Juan Capistrano, California
True Freshman (5 years to play 4)

What I Know About Him:

We brought in four quarterbacks in this class - three freshmen and one 5th-year transfer (AJ Bush) - but only one of those was hand-selected by new offensive coordinator Rod Smith. If you look at the QB roster, Cam Thomas, MJ Rivers, and Coran Taylor were all recruited for the Garrick McGee offense. Robinson was added by Smith in late January after Smith got the OC job.

Yes, the Smith offense is very similar and they all have the skills to run it, but I think it's worth noting that Robinson was hand-picked. Every OC (EVERY OC) has their own list of things they want in a QB, and Robinson was the (still available) guy who fit what Smith wants.

What I Expect From Him:

I'm guessing another certain redshirt here. My guess is that two of the three freshmen quarterbacks will redshirt. It will be a battle all camp and then the three QB's on the depth chart will be 5th-year transfer AJ Bush, sophomore Cam Thomas, and the winner of the Freshman Quarterback Derby. The other two guys will redshirt. I think Robinson will be one of those two.

86. Ron Gaines III

Simeon High School / Chicago, Illinois
True Freshman (walkon, 5 years to play 4)

What I Know About Him:

Lovie went with two longsnappers last year - one for shorts and one for longs. Ethan Tabel handled the short snaps (field goals and extra points) and Sean Mills handled the long snaps (punts). This spring, Mills transferred to Toledo, so Tabel is the only returning longsnapper.

Enter Ron Gaines III, a longsnapper from Simeon High School. Gaines is a perferred walkon, and honestly, he might have a shot at getting on the field this season.

What I Expect From Him:

Ethan Tabel probably has the starting spot locked up. BUT, Tabel didn't snap on punts last year. Most schools only have one longsnapper, and when the split the jobs into two, it's often because they don't trust the "shorts" longsnapper to be able to tackle. The longsnapper on punts has to be able to get down the field and make the tackle, so that might be a spot where Gaines can push Tabel.

The likely scenario: Gaines redshirts, Tabel holds the job for this year and two more years after that, and then Gaines takes over his redshirt junior season. The unlikely yet still possible scenario: Gaines wins the punt snapping job this fall.


Bear8287 on June 04 @ 10:14 PM CDT

Isn't this the year where you finally have LLUOI Tom Cruise rankings for each player and are going to post them too? :-)

Robert on June 12, 2017 @ 10:39 AM CDT

I don't have a full set yet. I started doing Tom Cruises in the middle of the 2014 recruiting class, so guys like Foster, DiLauro, Allegretti, Crawford, Dudek, etc. were never rated. And I can't really go back and rate them now.

As I said last year, starting in 2018, I'll start including Cruise rankings.

Robert on June 05 @ 04:08 PM CDT

Good point! I forgot. I'll add them going forward.

Although, I should note, four of these five don't have Cruise ratings. I don't rate the walkons.

Bear8287 on June 06 @ 10:06 AM CDT

Thanks Robert! We'll look forward to seeing these.

jdapisa on June 05 @ 08:10 AM CDT

Excited to see these coming out Robert. For the first time in 3 years, we have enough bodies to fill out close to all of this list with scholarship players.

Robert on June 05 @ 04:09 PM CDT

I totally thought of that when putting the list together. Last year it was a struggle to find walkons to get to 90. This year I debated three walkons for the #90 spot.

Next year will be even harder.

ATOillini on June 05 @ 05:29 PM CDT

Who is that guy in the blue shirt holding the football? If only his hat had been camouflage, then I'd be very excited to think Carl Spackler was helping the Illini.

neale stoner on June 05 @ 08:48 PM CDT

It’s just great to be reading Robert on football again. And there is some optimism in the air. It takes so little for us. Five scholarship quarterbacks!

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