Looks Like University Of Illinois - Blaise Sparks

Aug 1, 2019

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I can't help but look at this as "what could have been". That's a terrible way to start an LLUOI post, but it's how I'm viewing this. The timing of this whole thing tells the entire story, and it can't really be ignored. I'll just take you through the key dates.

In June, Jalen St. John, offensive lineman at Trinity Catholic and our top tackle target, was seemingly an Illinois lean. That's what his Crystal Ball said, we have his old high school coach on our staff, he visited for the big man camp in early June (after several other visits in the spring), it felt inevitable.

Then he visited Missouri and everything changed. The Crystal Ball votes began to change. The very vocal Mizzou Twitter began to say "we totally stole him from you". As it turned out, they were right. On July 11th, he committed to Missouri, saying on Twitter that he "rerouted" (translation: I was totally headed to Illinois but rerouted to Missouri).

Also in early July (I'm assuming once our staff learned that JSJ was moving towards Missouri) - we offered Blaise Sparks. I can't say for certain that this was a direct thing - one 6'-6" 300 lb offensive tackle is drifting towards Missouri so we look at our board and offer the 6'-7" 300 lb offensive tackle next on the list - but that's certainly how it reads.

Which is fine. That's how recruiting works across the country. When Florida loses the offensive tackle they were targeting (to, say, Clemson), they move down the list and maybe offer some offensive tackle with Arkansas-Baylor-UCLA offers. And if they get that guy then UCLA moves down their list. Somewhere there's a Southern Miss fan cursing us for taking Blaise Sparks.

The key, obviously, is to break that cycle. The more Jadon Thompsons, the better. He should have chosen Michigan, forcing us to chase the next tall outside receiver on our list, but we landed him. Break that cycle, win more games.

But when you look at this as a whole, the story is simple: we were hoping our OL class would be Marcus Harper, Kevo Wesley, and Jalen St. John. We did land a verbal from Harper, but then he flipped to Oregon. Wesley picked Vanderbilt and St. John picked Missouri.

Instead of Wesley we landed Kevin Tyler. And honestly, I think Tyler might be a little better so maybe this one should be looked at as "two similar targets". Tyler was a 3 Tom Cruise recruit to me and I think Wesley would have been the same had I rated him. Maybe Tyler is 3.23 and Wesley is 3.08. Or something.

Instead of Harper, we landed Phifer Griffin. I did rate both of those players - Harper got 3.5 Cruises when he committed here (before decommitting three weeks later) and Griffin got 1.5. That's a big drop. Probably a "likely starter" to "longshot to ever make the rotation" kind of drop.

And instead of St. John, we landed Blaise Sparks. St. John would have received 3.5 Tom Cruises if he had committed here. He was (is) a very solid prospect. Sparks? Let's get into that, shall we? I mean, it's only the whole point of this entire post.

Let's start with an Illini comp since I'm totally going to remember to do that from now on. Former Illini of whom he reminds me (thanks Mac!): Ryan Palmer.

Palmer was a little skinnier in high school and had to grow into his body but Sparks' film is like a clone of watching Palmer in practice. If you don't remember Palmer, he was in the 2006 recruiting class (one of the lower-rated guys as I recall). Redshirted in 2006, played some in 2007, 2008 was expected to maybe grab a starting role but it didn't happen. 2009 he did grab a starting role but then lost his starting job to freshman Hugh Thornton and most thought Palmer's career would be remembered as a bust. Then Corey Lewis had his 17th ACL injury, Palmer jumped back into a starting role at right tackle (Thornton moved to guard), and 2010 was this huge resurgence rushing the football (with Palmer starting all 13 games including the bowl game). Never give up on a player because there's always that fifth-year-senior surprise season lurking, I say.

I think that's a fair comp for Sparks. I don't think he's going to be a guy who can contribute his first few years. Palmer was "start five games as a redshirt junior, lose your starting spot, and then start all 13 as a redshirt senior" player, so I think that's a fair guess for the kind of career Sparks might have. Three and a half years of nothing and then a year and a half of something. I don't think he's going to be "start as a redshirt freshman" like Kendrick Green.

His film is very Palmer-y too. Very tall, so he loses leverage sometimes. 6'-7" is my personal limit on offensive linemen (I just feel like 6'-8" means you're too tall to ever keep a solid center of gravity unless you're shaped like Alejandro Villanueva), so Sparks is right at that limit.

Looking through his Twitter-announced offers, it looks like he got Pittsburgh in February (and visited there in June) and then Rutgers in May (as well as other offers like Tulane and Temple and South Florida and Southern Miss). He got the Illinois offer in early July (after something happened - can't remember what), visited for the BBQ last Friday, and is now committed.

(Also he says "il-uh-noise" so he'll fit right in with the students singing the Alma Mater.) (h/t jdl)

Where does that land us with the OL class? A few months ago we were all thinking it would be Harper-Wesley-JSJ and it turned out to be Tyler-Griffin-Sparks. The class I wanted had an average Tom Cruise rating of 3.33 and now we have a class with average Tom Cruise rating of 2.33. It's not awful - it's not the jucos in 2015 that never panned out - but it's not Harper-Wesley-JSJ either. It's just... an OL class we now hope exceeds expectations. Damning with faint praise, I suppose.

Tom Cruises for Sparks? I'm sticking with my Ryan Palmer comp. Might not have the footwork (maybe it can be taught), but the frame is there to eventually do what Palmer finally did in 2010. That's a 2.5 to me.

Blaise Sparks. Two and one-half Tom Cruises.


JelaniBoline on August 1, 2019 @ 02:43 PM

You have to get your Witherspoon LLUOI in before you see him in person tomorrow

Robert on August 1, 2019 @ 03:17 PM

Ha! I totally plan to cheat there. The first-ever in-person LLUOI evaluation.

AHSIllini32 on August 1, 2019 @ 02:53 PM

Tyler almost committed around when Harper did so he certainly wasn't a backup option to Harper.

But man, as you said, we were close to having a dynamite OL class. Still like these three guys and their potential.

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