The 90 Illini #59: Moses Okpala
Now that this is pretty much 100% a Lovie Smith roster - only Jake Hansen, James McCourt, and Doug Kramer remain from the Bill Cubit recruiting class - it's fairly stunning how NFL Combine-ish his recruits have been. No, that doesn't mean "all Lovie recruits are headed to the Combine". It means that Lovie, when not landing the top recruits who everyone wants, leans way more towards combine measurables than anything else.
At all positions. He recruited Jakari Norwood even though he was the backup running back at his high school simply because he believes he can take that speed and build a college running back. Seth Coleman was a high school basketball player who looked like a defensive end. Even the transfers lean in this direction, from the highly-rated (Wole Betiku) to the lower-rated (Khmari Thompson). Raw talent, very little actual football played.
This isn't every recruit - this is not "Lovie turns down multiple four-stars to chase an unknown track athlete from Houston" - it's just something I've noticed over the last few years. When trying to fill out his roster of piano students, this piano teacher looks for students with long fingers and really doesn't care if they've ever shown any musical ability. They might not be able to read sheet music to save their lives, but if they can be taught to do that, they'll be way better than these short-fingered sight-readers.
(I mean, it's not exactly that, but I think you get my point.)
Next up on the "didn't play much high school football but oozes athletic ability" train: Moses Okpala!
59. Moses Okpala
Uniform number: 69
Year in school: Redshirt Freshman (4 years to play 4)
Height: 6'-7" -- Weight: 260 lbs.
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
High School: Ladue HS
Five best offers: Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Missouri
Tom Cruise rating: 3.5 Cruises
Autofill: he was going to play basketball, someone convinced him to try football, had a breakout junior season (didn't play as a sophomore after having surgery), got all these offers, and picked Illinois. If it works, he has the frame to be an NFL player. If he never learns how to play the piano, well, we tried.
There's really not much more than that. When you see him in uniform you gasp - such a massive frame. I've seen a lot of chatter saying he could be Xavier Fulton (add a bunch of weight to that frame and flip him over to offensive tackle) and I have to say, I don't disagree. You can't teach a frame like that. But the most likely result is defensive lineman.
I had him a little higher on this list, but with the addition of South Carolina State transfer Roderick Perry, I shuffled some players around on my list. Perry will get a lot of snaps at DT; Okpala now gets a little more time to develop.
I still think there are three positions where Okpala might end up. He could still be a strongside defensive end. Right now he's at defensive tackle. And there's still that Xavier Fulton possibility of DL-to-OL. Remember, Kendrick Green was a defensive tackle for a year. Julian Pearl was a defensive end for a year. This staff loves to flip people over.
The most likely scenario? Defensive tackle. A few snaps here and there this year, significantly more snaps in 2021, starter in 2022 and 2023.