The 90 Illini - 65 ~ 61

Jul 4, 2019

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Writing this one on the airplane. There's no wifi, so as of right now, I have fill-ins below for the information I don't know. Justice Williams went to Texas High School in Texas, Texas because I can't remember which DFW high school he went to. When we land and I post this, I might update the high schools (and the Tom Cruises) because I'll be able to do a little research. But I might just post it with Tarique Barnes going to Christian Brothers High School in Memphis because I'm 80% sure that was his high school but maybe not?

65. Tarique Barnes

Christian Brothers High School / Memphis, Tennessee
True Freshman (5 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 1.5

What I Know About Him:

Barnes was a late addition to this latest recruiting class. We'll call it a "slipped through the cracks" recruit. Had some solid offers, for whatever reason, those schools didn't work out, so when he revisited things after his senior season, Illinois emerged.

And it's a good thing because we really needed another linebacker in this class. There's one senior (Dele Harding) and a few juniors (Jake Hansen, Milo Eifler) in the main roles right now, which means that the 2019 class needed at least two linebackers for the future. When we entered the winter recruiting period last year we had exactly zero linebackers lined up, but thankfully we added Barnes (and Shammond Cooper) to the class.

What I Expect From Him:

This is tricky. I still don't know how The Lovie Defense will differ from the way Hardy Nickerson set things up. Last year had moved to "you know, we really only have two 'linebackers' anymore", but this year we don't know yet (and you WON'T KNOW from reading this blog, Akron coaches).

So as of right now, I expect Barnes to redshirt. But if Lovie sticks with a base 4-3 defense a lot more, the linebackers become more important (and linebacker depth becomes more important) and Barnes would likely play. So this one is right on the borderline for me. Might redshirt and emerge in 2021. Might play a lot on special teams and even some snaps at linebacker.

64. Verdis Brown

Offensive Lineman
IMG Academy / originally from Chicago, Illinois
Redshirt Freshman (4 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 4.250

What I Know About Him:

When Jimbo Fischer (man I don't know if it's Fisher or Fischer and I have no way to look it up) left Florida State for Texas A&M, two "IMG Academy by way of Chicago" guys decommitted from Florida State - Houston Griffith (son of Howard) and Verdis Brown. Houston ended up at Notre Dame. Verdis ended up at Illinois.

Although he almost didn't. Some may recall that on signing day that year, when tweeting a recruiting graphic listing their signed class, Missouri included Verdis in the graphic. Which means the coaches told the graphics department that Verdis would be part of their class (he visited there the weekend before signing day). Oops. Verdis signed with Illinois.

What I Expect From Him:

Last season he was a defensive tackle. This year he's an offensive guard. We'll call that the Kendrick Green path. First year, while redshirting, play defensive tackle. Then, once you know everything about how defensive tackle works, switch over to guard and block the defensive tackles.

What I don't expect, however, is the Kendrick Green path where he starts next season. Verdis enrolled early but was held out of his first spring ball for "academic issues", which usually means "let's get used to the rigors of college academic life and worry about football in your second season". So I'd put Verdis a little behind Kendrick Green's development at this point. But I also think Verdis has a higher ceiling (like, top-5 ceiling on the team), so watch out in the future. This year, backup guard, next year, on the field a lot, maybe even starting. 2021 and 2022, hopefully an All-Conference offensive lineman.

63. Justice Williams

Wide Receiver
Texas High School / Texas, Texas
Senior (1 year to play 1)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

Linebacker-turned-wide-receiver. Not something you hear every day. Williams was a Tim Beckman recruit (there aren't many left - it's just guys like Williams, Milan, Corbin, and Reams) and played outside linebacker in that scheme. Lovie moved him to wide receiver where he… didn't play much last year.

I always feel bad for guys like that. You agree to play for a coach, you get to school, that coach gets fired, the new coach changes the scheme, and there's no longer a spot for you at linebacker so you move to wide receiver.

What I Expect From Him:

Man, I would love nothing more than a Justice Williams breakout season at wide receiver. We could use one or seven breakout wide receivers on this team. We'll call it "2018 was his adjustment year after changing positions and 2019 is his breakout year".

But we all probably know that it's not very likely that a guy can move from linebacker to wide receiver, not play one season, and then leap the other receivers and play the next season. Not impossible, just not likely. Which, I guess, is why I have a senior at #63. Really hope he can contribute, just not likely.

62. Jakari Norwood

Running Back
Deerfield High School / Deerfield, Florida
Sophomore (4 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

See this is where I really wish I could research some things. I'm 87% certain that Norwood went to Deerfield HS (wait, isn't it Deerfield Beach? I'll check when I land) and I'm 73% certain that tight end Daniel Barker was the same high school. I'm also 61% certain that both of them visited at the same time a few Junes ago (with most of their high school team) and that team visit led to two recruits.

He's tiny (like, TINY tiny) but also fast. And rather strong. He's not going to be a power tailback, and he's not going to break many tackles, but he might be the type of running back who can make the one cut and be gone. He doesn't have Reggie Corbin's cutting ability, but he might be able to be Reggie Corbin lite.

What I Expect From Him:

Let's just call this one "sneaky". He's a sneaky talent. Has some burst (as you saw from his touchdown in the spring game). I had mostly written off Norwood last summer (which is awful to do after one camp). Big Ten football is big boy football and Norwood just didn't show much. It's so hard for a guy that small to work his way into the tailback rotation.

But then this spring, during the practices I watched, there were a few "now wait just a second" moments. I'm not saying he's going to be a star in the Big Ten, but I definitely took him off my "written off" list. There probably aren't carries out there this year (Reggie Corbin, Mike Epstein, Dre Brown, Ra'Von Bonner), but next year, after Corbin and Brown graduate, now wait just a second.

61. Ron Hardge

Defensive Back
Cardinal Gibbons High School / Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Sophomore (4 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

WAIT. Was Hardge the teammate of Barker? Do I have that mixed up in my head? No, I think Barker and Norwood were from the same high school in Florida and then I think Hardge and Carlos Sandy were from the same high school in Florida. I'm 96% certain of that one. Yet only 36% certain that Cardinal Gibbons is in Fort Lauderdale. You know, I basically have to leave all of the fill-ins above when I land or you're not going to know what I'm talking about. I'll correct the Tom Cruise guesses later.

Hardge looked like a certain redshirt last season - as I recall he only played in one of the first six games (Western Illinois) and with the new rule (you can play in four games and keep your redshirt), I thought a redshirt year was a lock. But then I believe he played in the rest of the games. Some of that was injuries to other cornerbacks, but some was "he pushed past the other freshmen CB's to be the next man up".

What I Expect From Him:

I mentioned this when talking about Dylan Wyatt in the last post. I'm fairly certain the top three cornerbacks will be Nate Hobbs, Jartavius Martin, and Marquez Beason. But four guys will be in the rotation, and that fourth guy could be any one of 4-5 defensive backs.

Most likely it's one of the three corners from the 2018 class: Nick Walker (a juco recruit who arrived as a sophomore so he'll be a junior this fall), Dylan Wyatt (who I already covered on The 90 Illini), or Ron Hardge. Given that Wyatt was already covered and Walker is still to come, I guess I'm saying that right now I see the order as Walker-Hardge-Wyatt. But next month at camp (next month!), anything could happen.


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