The 90 Illini #85: Blaise Sparks
Sparks, like Phifer Griffin, enrolled early in January. So we would have gotten our first glimpse of him had we had a spring game. Instead, the only glimpse we've had are weight room videos from Lou Hernandez. Let's start there and then we can get to the 90i stuff.
Great winter for young freshman OL Blaise Sparks! Looking forward to seeing him and the team back in the #getbigroom again soon! #GYMR @williejones0524 @StrengthIllini @IlliniFootball @redskins1966 🔸🔹 pic.twitter.com/0dBUZhKz6m— Lou Hernandez (@Loustrength) May 27, 2020
That teaches me two things:
1. He's very tall
2. He doesn't have an OL build just yet.
This is not an insult. Very few freshmen arrive looking like Larry Boyd. I'm just pointing out that we have one data point so far and that data point is "needs to turn 6'-7"/300 lbs into a football-ready 6'-7"/315 lbs. of muscle".
Also, I need to learn more about these glasses. Kievan Myers transferred out, so we need another OL in glasses. Love a good OL in glasses.
85. Blaise Sparks
Uniform number: 74
Year in school: True Freshman (5 years to play 4)
Height: 6'-7" -- Weight: 300 lbs.
Hometown: Fort Meyers, Florida
High School: North Fort Meyers High School
Five best offers: Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Southern Miss, Temple
Tom Cruise rating: 2.5 Cruises
It needs to be stated again. I think I did this in the Sparks LLUOI post as well, and it's never great to write about one player and immediately talk about who he isn't, but this is how the 2020 OL recruiting went. It's pretty simple: the Plan A class was Jalen St. John, Kevo Wesley, and Marcus Harper. Jalen St. John is at Arkansas, Kevo Wesley is at Vanderbilt, and Marcus Harper is at Oregon. In their places, we landed Phifer Griffin, Blaise Sparks, and Kevin Tyler.
We might look back in five years and say "Griffin-Sparks-Tyler ended up wayyy better than St. John-Wesley-Harper". But that's how Plan A/Plan B went with this class. We landed Harper and he flipped to Oregon. We lost out on Wesley to Vanderbilt. And we lost St. John to Missouri (and then, after Barry Odom was fired, he flipped to Arkansas).
So the "background" here is that Griffin and Sparks were originally slated to be St. John and Harper.
I'm doing all of this talking around Sparks and not talking about Sparks because we just don't know much yet. I liked Sparks better than Griffin on film, so I gave Sparks 2.5 Cruises and Griffin 1.5 Cruises (I gave Harper 3.5 Cruises when he committed but then he flipped to Oregon sorry I'll stop). So I could see Sparks challenging for a job sooner rather than later.
For 2020, he'll almost certainly redshirt. There are three senior tackles in Palcho, Lowe, and Cerny, so even if there's an injury, the spots will be taken by seniors. After that, though, with three senior tackles graduating, so much is up for grabs in 2021.
Both tackle spots will need new starters, and I think both of the 2019 recruits (Kirts and Plohr) will be interior linemen, so this is how that tackle battle shapes up when camp opens in 2021:
Julian Pearl (rs-JR)
Jordyn Slaughter (rs-JR, might be a guard)
Blaise Sparks (rs-FR)
Phifer Griffin (rs-FR)
Brody Wisecarver (FR)
Pearl and Slaughter are the most likely starters by then, but there's a chance Sparks or Griffin (or even Wisecarver) would be ready early. Sparks enrolled in January of 2020, so that gives him 18 months with Lou to get his body ready for that training camp battle.
Most likely, Slaughter and Pearl are the starters for 2021 and 2022 and then Sparks gets ready for 2023 and 2024. But, you never know. Especially for an offensive lineman in glasses.