The 90 Illini - 25 ~ 21

Aug 27, 2019

It always gets away from me. I just looked it up - I've written just over 65,000 words about the Illini this month (the first Harry Potter book - 76,944 words), and it's still not enough. The season starts in five days and I have so many posts I still need to write.

My plan to get there. A 90i post today (25~21), tomorrow (20~16), Thursday (15~11), and Friday (Top Ten). I also have two LLUOI posts AND a big write-up of my Smith Performance Center tour yesterday. What's that? Jamall Walker was demoted to a non-recruiting assistant role and Underwood hired his old assistant Stephen Gentry away from Gonzaga? You know I should probably write something about that too...

25. Isaiah Gay

Defensive End
Northern Nash High School / Nashville, North Carolina
Junior (3 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 1.5

What I Know About Him:

He's had one of the more interesting Illini underclassman journeys. In the first two games of his freshman year (his true freshman year), he was great. Had a big sack in the Western Kentucky game and a few big tackles. Two games in (Ball State and Western Kentucky) and we thought we had a super sleeper on our hands. If he can do this at 206 lbs, what will he be like when he adds weight and muscle?

Unfortunately, those were probably his best two games so far. Once the Big Ten schedule started (and then basically all of last year), he was overmatched. He's been on this progression from 206 lbs to (now) 240 lbs, and each step along the journey he probably wasn't there yet.

Now, especially with Bobby Roundtree out, he has to step forward. He has to be ready.

What I Expect From Him:

I'm really not sure. We've been waiting to see the Isaiah Gay we saw against Ball State and Western Kentucky in 2017 for 22 games now. At some point, his weight and strength has to get there and he has to be able to hold the edge against the run.

What I expect: he's still maybe eight games away. Rough opening to the season, light bulb mid-season, really good by the end of the year with a big senior season ahead.

24. Milo Eifler

Transfer from the University of Washington / originally from Oakland, California
Junior (2 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 3.5

What I Know About Him:

It's always weird to write these after The Preview is published. I used up all of my best "what I know about him" stuff when writing the position breakdowns. A lot of this will probably be a repeat.

Eifler was an athlete who had never played football when he attended a Nike camp one summer with the football team and put up the best numbers at the "combine". College recruiters started calling and he hadn't even played a high school football game. As a result of that, this will be his fifth year of competitive football. That's not much. Especially for a redshirt junior.

What I Expect From Him:

He's certainly one of the top athletes on the team. In uniform, he's easily cuts the most intimidating figure among the linebackers. He is 6'-2" of muscle and speed. Looks like every Ohio State linebacker we've seen in Champaign the past 15 years.

The question: is he a football player yet? He's had a year to learn the defense while sitting out - has he learned it? Has football clicked for him yet or is he still thinking out there like he was at Washington? I'm not sure of the answer except to say this: if it clicks, he can be one of the best players on the field. No physical attributes will hold him back. If it doesn't click, he won't play much and guys who are smaller/weaker/slower than him will play in front of him.

23. Trenard Davis

Wide Receiver
American Heritage School / Boynton Beach, Florida
Senior (1 year to play 1)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

Such a crazy journey. He arrives in the summer of 2015, is on the field at Camp Rantoul, and then finds out there's an academic snag and he's not eligible that season. He leaves school, goes to Parkland to get it fixed, returns in January, and joins the team for 2016.

He then goes from position to position to position. He's a cornerback that fall (2016) when both Wes Lunt and Chayce Crouch go down with injuries, so suddenly he's the backup quarterback. Then, once there's some QB depth he goes to safety. When safety doesn't work out, he goes to wide receiver in 2018. And that's where he stayed.

What I Expect From Him:

I didn't see much of him on the field at training camp. Hopefully it's just a minor injury and, since he's a guy who knows all of the schemes, they were taking it easy with him until the real games start.

If it's not, and he's not out there for the first few games, it could be easy for him to fall behind in this "six of these 11 guys will play and don't forget about the 12th and 13th guy" wide receiving corps. Hopefully that's not the case and he does what he did last year - finish second on the team in receptions.

22. Jamal Woods

Defensive Tackle
Hueytown High School / Hueytown, Alabama
Redshirt Sophomore (3 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: 1.5

What I Know About Him:

Besides quarterbacks, was he the only Garrick McGee recruiting find? I think he might have been. McGee recruiting Birmingham (because of his connections there when he was the UAB coach) and found a defensive lineman who was committed to Memphis. That lineman was looking for a Power Five team to show some interest, Illinois showed interest, and here he is in Champaign.

He also had a fortunate (?) injury last season. It happened in the Penn State game, and since that was the 4th game of the season, with the new rule, he was allowed to take a redshirt. So he returns as a redshirt sophomore instead of a true junior. Had he been injured in the next half of football, he couldn't have redshirted.

What I Expect From Him:

I have him at #22, which are spots reserved for starters, but I think there are three "starters" at defensive tackle this season (they will rotate liberally), so all of them make the top-22.

I could even see Woods grabbing a starting spot from one of the seniors. These are the kinds of problems Illinois football needs to have. Tons of competition for the starting spots.

Also, he made that video back in December guaranteeing that Illinois would go to a bowl game this season. So... time for him to keep his promise.

21. Richie Petitbon

Offensive Lineman
Transfer from Alabama / originally from Annapolis, Maryland
Senior (1 year to play 1)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

I really like the Transfer Portal. It's this great college football talent equalizer. You know how all these players from the 2016 Bill Cubit recruiting class have transferred down? Andrew Trainer to William & Mary, Evan Jones to Georgia State, MJ McGriff to this weekend's opponent, Akron? Transferring allows for players to settle at their appropriate level. MJ McGriff is more of a MAC wide receiver, not a Big Ten wide receiver, so he eventually found his spot.

And Richie Petitbon eventually found his spot. He wasn't an Alabama offensive lineman (who is?). When the level you need to attain is "match up well with Clemson's defensive line in the title game", you need to be a 95th-percentile college lineman. He wasn't.

And that's OK. A 72nd-percentile college lineman could do quite well helping Illinois try to get to a bowl game. The same way Andrew Trainer might help William & Mary compete for the Colonial Athletic Association title. Not every transfer is going to work out, but hopefully, this one is Petitbon transferring to his perfect level.

What I Expect From Him:

I'm happy that he looked much better in Training Camp than he did in the spring. In the spring - and a lot of this was probably me looking at a line that had been playing so well with Nick Allegretti and then seeing a new guy trying to get settled in at that spot - things were a bit rough. The spring game was really rough. But fall camp was better.

I expect that progression to continue. I don't think the line goes into the non-conference and picks up exactly where they left off last season. There's a new guy on the line, and even with advancements from the three juniors and one sophomore, it might take a bit. But by the end of the season, I think Illini fans will be very, very happy that Petitbon transferred in.


Illinimac68 on August 28 @ 10:11 PM CDT

I accept your assessment of McGriff's abilities but I wish he had stayed with us so we could have a player we could call Crime Dog.

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