Looks Like University Of Illinois - TJ Griffin

Dec 15, 2021

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Let's start here. I don't know Chicagoland very well. So I had no idea where Stagg High School was located. It's usually the smaller public high schools that stump me in Chicago. For example, I was searching a map for an alternative route to Midway a few months ago and while scrolling past some streets I saw "John Hancock High School" and wondered aloud if there are 75 Chicago high schools I've never heard of before (St. Louis has only 17 public high schools).

The internet search engine called "Google" helped me to find that Amos Alonzo Stagg HS is in Palos Hills. Which, I guess, isn't too far from Midway either. We will now play "things Robert knows about Palos Hills".

  • There's three Paloses - Palos Heights, Palos Hills, and Palos Park.
  • There were two girls I knew in Forbes Hall (the only two) and they went to Mother McCauley and both of them lived in Palos Hills I think. Or maybe it was Palos Heights.
  • When you're flying into Midway at night there's this big area with no lights right there and I think it's a swamp or something.

I also now know that TJ Griffin goes to Amos Alonzo Stagg HS. And I learned yesterday that Stagg, uh, hasn't won a football game in four years:

Can that be true? I'm just accepting something I saw online as being true. Four years no wins?

Looked it up on MaxPreps and here's the Stagg HS record the last four seasons:

2021: 0-9
2020: 0-6 (Covid shortened season)
2019: 1-8
2018: 2-7

So not true, but close. 3-30 over the last three seasons. The closest they came to a win this season: a 24-19 loss to Lincoln Way Central.

This factoid is actually encouraging to me. And long-time readers probably know why. My "Big Ten Starter" percentages:

5-star recruit: 96% chance he's a Big Ten starter.
4-star recruit: 74% chance he's a Big Ten starter.
High 3-star recruit: 58% chance he's a Big Ten starter.
Mid 3-star recruit: 36% chance he's a Big Ten starter.
Low 3-star recruit: 17% chance he's a Big Ten starter.
Unranked, unknown recruit: 39% chance he's a Big Ten starter

That's always been my observation, anyway. The mid-to-low three star recruits have been evaluated and given a rating that says "probably a MAC/Sun Belt recruit - maybe doesn't have the potential to start in the Big Ten". Some of them do work out; many do not.

The unknown, unranked players seem to have a much higher hit rate. Just look at the starting defense this year. Isaiah Gay was a complete unknown who picked Illinois after signing day. Devin Witherspoon was simply added to the roster when he signed and enrolled in August of his freshman year. When Sydney Brown verballed on Signing Day in December of 2017, Rivals and 247 scrambled to create a profile for him. Kerby Joseph was similar - his profile was created one week before when he picked Illinois.

The reason for this (in my opinion): players who went through the entire process, including multiple camps at Power Five schools (but no offers), have been evaluated as being one level below Big Ten starter. You can find gems there, but for the most part, the evaluations are correct. It's a reach to think these guys can compete in the Big Ten. With players you discover, however - players that haven't been told "no" by other Power Five schools - well, it seems like you can unearth gems at a higher rate.

I think TJ Griffin is this type of player. Read: that does not say "I think TJ Griffin is a Power Five starter". It says "I think TJ Griffin goes in the '39% chance he's a Big Ten starter'" category. Seems to be a complete unknown (on a high school football team that has lost 23 games in a row) who has been discovered by our coaching staff.

I've always maintained that this 2022 class would have a lot of "unknown" players in Illinois. The high school season where these players break out - their fall junior season - was canceled. It was replaced by a 6-game spring season (crammed between a 6-week basketball season and a 6-week baseball season). So there were always going to be players to emerge this fall. To Bret Bielema's staff, TJ is one of them.

Here's his ratings from the (now) four services:

Rivals: 5.4 two-star (two-stars are 5.2, 5.3, or 5.4)
ESPN: 74 three-star (three-stars are rated 70-79)
247: 84 three-star (three-stars are rated 79-88)
On3: 85 three-star (three-stars are rated 80-89)

So a two-star from Rivals and a mid-tier three-star from the other three.

Let's go to the film next. Hand up - I have not watched one single minute of TJ Griffin film since he committed. I know he played both wide receiver and safety in high school so, like all high school film, I'm expecting it to be mostly offensive highlights. I will begin watching... now.

OK so I was spot on. It's mostly WR film. And the WR film makes me laugh. Not that it's bad or that he's bad... let me explain.

This film is the 2019 Illini offense. And TJ Griffin was Josh Imatorbhebhe. The film starts with his offensive stats (41 catches for 829 yards and 6 touchdowns), and from the clips we saw, I'm guessing his Yards After Catch total was 50 yards. That's not his fault. This is just a very bad high school football team that had one lever to pull: throw the jump ball to TJ. I'm not kidding, there have to be 18 jump balls in there, some under-thrown by 15 yards. So there's no chance for YAC. It's just TJ out-jumping a DB over and over and over and over. See for youself.

Again, I'm not mocking anyone here. I can't imagine the task of taking a high school team that is 3-30 over the last four seasons and trying to convince kids to come out for football. When you find one thing you can do ("well, TJ can out-jump everyone"), you just go with it.

There are a few defensive clips in there, so let's look at those.

The first one is just your run-of-the-mill "backpedal, see throw, charge forward, wrap up":

This one is a sneaky-good highlight. The risk of a one-on-one chase-down like this is the ballcarrier dipping inside of you. Here, Griffin slows up just enough (for 2-3 steps) to prevent that and then ushers the ballcarrier out of bounds.

He can also win jump balls on defense:

And this one is the best of the defensive highlights. Shows good speed for a tall guy (read: that always screams "safety") and then, well, the ballcarrier is going to have a headache tomorrow.

Put it all together and what do we have?

  • A no-star when he committed, so the lack of offers doesn't bother me. We discovered him.
  • Has played for a very poor high school program so is likely going to need a lot of "here's the little things that make safeties great" classes with Ryan Walters.
  • Mostly a WR in high school so add another layer of "learning to play defense".
  • Project recruit but the good kind of project where you found him hiding at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Palos Something.

Projects always get low grades (unless they have film like Sydney Brown). In the big picture, this is the safety replacement because Austin Brown picked Wisconsin. Brown has a 74% chance of being a Big Ten starter. Griffin has a 39% chance. So I can't go much higher than...

TJ Griffin. Two Tom Cruises.


ClassOfDeeDeronJames on December 15, 2021 @ 03:00 AM

Reminds me of Bobby Boucher. Moving 3x faster than the rest of his team and laying the wood on everyone. TJ "The Waterboy" Griffin?

firet92 on December 15, 2021 @ 06:38 PM

Love the tidbits at the beginning. Good stuff Robert.

GilThorpe on December 16, 2021 @ 12:18 PM

my wife grew up in Palos Heights. I went to a private high school in Palos Heights (she didnt & thats another story but here we are still married 38 years later). It doesnt matter, but Mother McCauley is full of irish girls and Palos Heights is as well. Those girls from Forbes were most likely from Palos Heights.
I think Griffin will be our first player from Stagg in the 40 years Ive been following the Illini. Just not a strong football program there

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