Freshman Jersey Number Day 2019
I think this is the latest Freshman Jersey Number Day in history. It's a June tradition for me - usually late June just before I take my typical 4th of July trip (I remember writing one of these while my wife was driving and we were headed to Door County). But I can get down with a mid-July Freshman Jersey Number Day. They'll be out on the practice field two weeks from tomorrow wearing these numbers, so it almost makes it more real.
Why do I love Freshman Jersey Number Day? Because following Illini football is about the players. No roster of players on the planet has been asked to endure more "here's your coach no just kidding we're firing him and making the interim coach your coach jk jk we fired that guy too now HERE'S your coach oh and by the way all of these coaches are probably going to hire their son to coach you". If you sign up to wear the orange and blue, you're a conquering hero and I'm going to celebrate you.
(While I'm at it, "I'm going to celebrate you" does not mean "I'm going to claim that every freshman is a sleeper and will be the #1 surprise freshman in the Big Ten". Give it 100% effort and I got you - heck, give it 78% effort and I got you - but evaluations of play on the field will be tough/fair. You're going to need a lot of support at a University that hasn't exactly provided stability for its football players the last 20 years. And you will find that support here.)
OK, let's go through the jersey numbers for the freshmen (and the transfers who joined this summer). One transfer isn't on the list year (Trevon Sidney), but apparently that's a paperwork issue that will be resolved before camp starts (most of these players were still taking classes this summer in order to graduate-transfer).
We shall save the best two for last. So let's start at #8 and work our way up and then come back around for #3 and The One. Kind of like a wrap-around straight where an Ace can be low or high.
Casey Washington - #8
Robert's Rule #16 regarding Freshman Jersey Number Day - pay attention to the freshmen who get single digit numbers. Bennett Williams got #4 and I was all "this completely unknown safety gets to stroll in and grab a single digit number that the rest of the roster wants?". And then Williams was a freshman All American.
I'm not saying Casey Washington will be a freshman All American (wait, can Casey Washington please be a freshman All American?). I'm just saying that I pay attention when a freshman gets a single digit. Three freshmen get single digits this year - Isaiah Williams, Marquez Beason, and… Casey Washington.
Josh Imatorbhebhe - #9
OK so I'm on an airplane while typing this (how many posts have I written on airplanes this summer?). And I didn't pay for wifi (why am I not paying for wifi?) so I don't have a way to look anything up. So I totally can't remember if Imatorbhebhe was #9 at USC. I think he was #9? I'm going to write this like he was #9.
Josh Imatorbhebhe (imm-MA-tor-BAY-BAY) was #9 at USC and now he will be #9 at Illinois. Single-digit wide receivers are always awesome, so Imatorbhebhe will now be awesome. (We really, really need Imatorbhebhe to be awesome.)
Brandon Peters - #18
Brandon uh Peters was umm… Brandon Peters was #18 at Michigan. It says so right here in the picture in my brain when I picture Brandon Peters at Michigan. So Brandon Peters was clearly #18 at Michigan and will now be #18 at Illinois.
Is #18 a quarterback number? Man, I'm a 7-13-14 guy. Growing up, it felt like 14 was the only quarterback number. Then 7 was THE number. Now it's all over the place, but 18 feels out of place? 12 is good, 10 is probably a solid QB number, but 18? 18 just feels off.
Dalevon Campbell - #19
19 is one of those position-less numbers, right? You see a guy run out on the field wearing #19 what do you think? DB? WR? K? 20 feels like a tailback or a cornerback, but 19 doesn't have a position. 19 goes to the walkon punter, right?
Well, 19 here goes to a WR. And I guess I can get down with it. We've had wide receivers in 19 before. Hmmm… I'm not very certain of this. Someone ask me on August 18th how I feel about Campbell in the #19.
Kyron Cumby - #20
The big news here is that it says "RB" next to his name on the roster. They'll likely still use him in a hybrid role (split out wide here, in the backfield there), but "RB" means that in position drills, he'll be with the running backs. And that's important.
And #20 feels good here. If he's a returner, #20 looks like a solid returner number, kickoff or punt. And while I'd like to see him in single digits (we all want to see everyone who touches the ball in single digits), 20 feels right here.
Joseph Thompson - #23
This one is a fastball right down the middle. Defensive backs (I'm guessing he's at corner) wear #23. A 23 jumps routes. A 23 gets pick sixes. 23 feels right here. Nothing more to say.
Nick Fedanzo - #24
As you probably know I have this thing where I want Nick Fedanzo at linebacker. It's dumb, I know, but I feel great about tailback and worried about linebacker so I want most players with his measurables to play linebacker.
But #24 is not a linebacker number. 24 is straight tailback. I know he could switch if he switched positions, but something about Fedanzo getting the #24 makes me give up on my linebacker dream already. It was dumb anyway.
Shammond Cooper - #40
I mean, someone just slammed on the accelerator and we're now going 92 mph. Our top linebacker recruit in more than a dozen years wearing Dana Howard's number? This better not be a practical joke and when I get to camp he's wearing #2 or something. #40 is perfect.
I mean, PERFECT. I haven't been this excited about a FJND number since Bobby Roundtree got Simeon Rice's number. It is 2019, and it remains true that no linebacker from 1996 through 2018 would have started on the 1994 team (J Leman would have been close but Dana Howard still starts over J Leman). Twenty five seasons and we haven't had a single linebacker who would have cracked the Hardy-Howard-Holocek-Rice of Lou Tepper's 3-4.
Here's hoping Shammond Cooper in the #40 - what a PERFECT number - ends that streak.
Griffin Moore - #43
43 for a tight end feels weird, right? I think I'm going to choose this one for "just a placeholder - when he moves into the lineup later in his career he'll take one of the numbers that a graduating senior vacated".
That's the dirty little secret of Freshman Jersey Number Day. 30% of these players will graduate wearing a different number.
Tarique Barnes - #44
Another good linebacker number. #22 feels like a running back and #44 feels like a middle linebacker, right? #66 clearly an offensive lineman, #88 absolutely a wide receiver. 22-44-66-88, who do we appreciate? Practical player numbering.
Oluwole Betiku - #47
OK so here's the thing. There's only one number open in the 90's (#94 is still open, right? See I'm on an airplane and I didn't buy the wifi…), and we have a lot of defensive linemen coming in, so a lot of these guys are going to have to get placeholder numbers until they settle on a "final" number (likely in the 90's).
But for Betiku, as a graduate transfer (he arrives as a junior with two years to play), this is probably it. So he gets what I like to call the Glenn Foster - a weird DL number that sticks out when you see him out there with the 90's guys. I just don't know about this one. 47?
Seth Coleman - #49
Moses Okpala - #69
Keith Randolph - #88
I'm going to stop going in order and group these three so we can talk about it. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
First off, Okpala is getting an offensive lineman number. He's listed as a defensive lineman, but #69 is an offensive line number. So is this a hint? It's been tossed around - "a guy with that frame would make a pretty amazing left tackle, right?" - but that was just internet talk. He got the #69 though, so maybe not?
And I just covered #88 being a wide receiver number and here's defensive lineman Keith Randolph wearing #88. Not sure I understand that one (apart from, you know, us not having a number in the 90's to give him.) BUT THAT'S THE THING. We have #94 out there an… no one is taking it?
Seth Coleman #49? I mean, I guess it makes sense, especially with Betiku. Both are weakside defensive ends, and we have guys like #52 Ayo Shogbonyo over there, so I guess it works if the rotation there is Gay (#92), Shogbonyo (#52), Betiku (#47), and Coleman (#49). Still, 49 is weird.
So I think I'll settle here: Once players graduate, I'm guessing that all three of these guys move into a number in the 90's. 49, 69, and 88 are likely placeholder numbers. In fact, I could see a scenario where they dangle the #94 out there for all three of them. Make the rotation this season? You get #94.
Evan Kirts - #57
Solid OL number here. Not really a tackle number, but I'm OK with it. Me? I like my guards in the 60's and my tackles in the 70's (who doesn't?), but 57 is OK. 50's seem to be the single digits for offensive linemen. The 60's and 70's went out in the 80's and 90's. Now it seems like everyone wants to be fifty-something.
Josh Plohr - #59
See what I mean? We add two offensive linemen in the class and they're both in the 50's. What is with kids these days?
59 seems like one of those numbers where it's the second-to-last jersey chosen. It's just a weird number, right? Can you think of any great #59's in college football history? Just odd.
(But go rock it, Josh Plohr.)
Marquez Beason - #3
Saved the best two for last. And, honestly, the two least surprising Freshman Jersey Number Day selections of all time. Marquez Beason has been on campus 15 times since he committed and each time he gets photos taken wearing the number 3. Same for Isaiah Williams and #1. We knew these number selections more than a year ago.
But they're still so great. I said above that I was happy that Shammond Cooper was wearing #40 and not #2 or something, but I do think I could get down with the three four-star recruits wearing #3, #2, and #1.
No. 3 playing cornerback? 3 returning punts? I'm completely down with Beason in the 3, son.
Isaiah Williams - #1
He is… The One.
Remember - his high school teammates don't call him Isaiah. They don't say "hey Williams". They simply say "One". "Hey One, the cornerback keeps sagging off me - let's maybe go for the quick-hitter next drive."
He's worn the #1 when he was the phenom dominating St. Louis youth football. He wore #1 when he was winning a state title in football at Trinity Catholic. And now he'll wear #1 in Champaign.
We didn't use the number for several years. After Terry Hawthorne graduated wearing #1 in 2012, Tim Beckman said he wasn't going to give it out and that some player would need to earn it. No player ever earned it so it wasn't used until Lovie arrived. Jaylen Dunlap wore it for two years, then AJ Bush last year, and now… The One.
Please be The One who leads us back. Illini nation turns its lonely eyes to you.