Looks Like University Of Illinois - Donovan Leary
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I know I'm supposed to be the "yay, football!" guy, but I still can't find it. Another night spent avoiding NCAA Tournament information.
I say that so you know that I'm probably not giving this LLUOI my best effort. I'm preoccupied. I'm not watching a single minute of basketball but I know it's there. I'm fully aware of the alternate timeline where tonight is one of the bigger nights of my entire fan life. And I hate it.
But maybe a Looks Like University Of Illinois post is exactly what I need. I'm flying blind here - I first learned this kid's name today - so follow along with me as I learn about him.
From a quick bio search, I see that his brother was a 4-star QB recruit at the same high school and his brother picked NC State (where he started some games this fall before a season-ending injury). NC State makes me think of George McDonald, so I'm guessing we should put this one in the George McDonald file.
Ratings are pretty low. No ESPN profile, a 5.5 three-star on Rivals (they rate three-stars as either 5.5, 5.6, or 5.7), and an 83 on 247. We can use that to project where he'll finish in the rankings. Last year, DD Snyder was a 5.5 on Rivals and a 83 on 247. His ESPN score was pretty solid (76), so he ended up ranked 1,330 in the Composite rankings. So for Leary, if his Rivals and 247 scores stay the same, if he gets a 76 or so he'll finish ranked 1,300 or so. If it's lower (and it likely will be - 76 is pretty high for ESPN), he'll finish ranked well below that.
Comparing his Composite score against the other quarterbacks he'll join in Champaign, here's where he lands on the list:
Isaiah Williams .9479
Deuce Spann .8566
Coran Taylor .8551
Samari Collier .8530
Donovan Leary .8427
Matt Robinson .8004
It's worth noting two things here before we move on:
1. It's early, and rankings this year are going to be odd. With no camps last spring and summer and abbreviated high school seasons this fall (and spring), we probably already know this is going to be the worst year of the last 10 for player rankings. That .8427 might change significantly if there are Elite 11 regional camps this spring and summer (where the rankers can see all of the top-75 QB's up close).
2. Leary is the only one on that list whose profile says "PRO" and not "DUAL". The other five quarterbacks were all recruited to run Rod Smith's system (well, Coran Taylor was technically recruited to run Garrick McGee's system). Guys like Matt Robinson and Deuce Spann were specifically recruited by Rod Smith because of their run/pass capabilities. Leary is the first "tall, strong arm, not particularly mobile so he'll have to play in a pocket system" QB we've recruited in a while, although I guess Brandon Peters technically counts because his profile also says "PRO".
Let's go through his offers. And again, Covid will add some weirdness here. No assistants on the road last April and May. No camps in June. No campus visits for Saturday games in the fall. No junior days this spring. All of the times where we can gauge real interest haven't existed the last 12 months.
Going by his Twitter profile, it looks like his first offer was from Temple after his freshman year of high school. Makes sense. He's from the Philadelphia area (New Jersey side), his brother was a 4-star recruit, he got his first bit of high school film and got his first offer from a local school. Before his sophomore year in high school, he also added UMass, Central Michigan, Rutgers, Maryland, East Carolina. Then, after his sophomore season, offers from Boston College, Old Dominion, and Virginia Tech. He also notes that he was re-offered by the new Rutgers staff (Greg Schiano). In the spring and summer he also adds offers from Buffalo and Toledo.
After his junior season, he adds offers from Colorado State and Illinois. Today, he picks Illinois.
That sends me looking for stats on his junior season. I know I always say "never pay attention to HS QB stats", but I feel like a QB with those early offers would have more than just Illinois and Colorado State after his junior year. Here's what I found in this article from NJ.com:
The No. 47 recruit in the NJ.com Top 50, Leary threw for 1,122 yards and six touchdowns (eight INTs) in seven games (3-4) in 2020, completing 95-of-193 (50%) passes. He also rushed for 24 yards and two rushing scores. But Leary dubs the season a "struggle," motivating him heading into his senior year. He threw for 2,746 yards and 26 TDs (only four INTs) in 10 games as a sophomore and predicts similar production next fall.
That makes some sense. He plays a Covid season with only seven games and doesn't come close to his 2019 stats. The article mentions a coaching change (his HS coach was hired by Rutgers) and a scheme change, leading to a poor season. Still "26 TD's and 4 INT's in 10 games as a sophomore and then 6 TD's and 8 INT's in 7 games as a junior" probably explains only Colorado State and Illinois offered in January, February, and March. There were probably some "we want to see you come to camp and throw once recruiting is open again" messages from a lot of schools (again, just speculating).
So maybe this is another "early pounce" by the staff. That's what I speculated with Joey Okla - talented, a ton of interest, no real offers yet but that's what this entire spring would be for. So the staff pushed hard early and landed a verbal.
Given how that article was speculating that he'd be an important recruit for Rutgers (and, I mean, come on, his HS coach from that 26&4 sophomore season is now on the Rutgers staff), perhaps this was the same. Maybe Rutgers and some of his other early offers were giving him "come throw for us in person once recruiting visits are allowed again" and we gave him "you're our guy, please commit yesterday". Again, total speculation.
There's a risk to that, of course. If it's true that Wisconsin and Iowa were slow-playing Joey Okla and Rutgers and Maryland were slow-playing Donovon Leary, they're doing that because they've found that waiting for more information (and more interaction with the kid) has helped them hone in on better players in the past. Jumping early on a kid you feel great about can help you land him before he's discovered (Nick Allegretti), but "there's a reason all these other schools held off" is often the outcome in situations like this.
Above all of that, though... this is QB recruiting. It's different from all other positions. It's offensive coordinators looking for a kid with a very particular set of skills. Often, once they find him, they move very quickly.
So with the quick process here (offer-to-verbal in 14 days) I'm guessing that was the case. Which also tells us what Bret Bielema and Tony Petersen are looking for: tall QB, strong arm, more of a pocket guy than a running guy. Which, randomly, just put this thought in my head: if MJ Rivers was still here, I'm guessing he'd be our starter this fall.
Arm strength is what sticks out on film. Solid delivery, maybe some footwork issues, but these are zippy passes. Not just fastballs, either. Here's a couple throws from his film:
I just like the arc on that. We can talk about the placement (and the footwork) another time. With that throw, I like the pace of the ball. A perfect arc on the page. Doesn't let gravity take over.
And this throw is 61% of college quarterbacking:
High enough that there's no risk of a linebacker picking it off, zipped enough so it gets there before the corner reacts. Put that ball in that spot (with that pace) every time and you'll throw for a minimum 245 yards every game.
Now, obviously, there's a lot more to playing QB in college. Given his passing statistics last season, accuracy would need a massive boost for him to see the field. He'd need to make those throws above 85% of the time, not just (guessing here) 40% of the time. Once this system is fully implemented, the most accurate QB will win the job, so he needs to be able to knock the tin can off the ledge 8 out of every 10 throws. Arm seems to be there, though, so that's an important first step.
Tom Cruises. Ratings from the recruiting services are low, so that's not the best. The QB in last year's class (Samari Collier) was composite .8530 and I gave him two Cruises. Leary's composite is lower than that.
But he does have an arm, and I hear that's important for a quarterback. I don't know the offensive system yet, but given Petersen's past (and Bielema's), I think a pocket QB with a big arm will be quite important. So I think I need to go higher than Collier here. Let's go with...
Donovan Leary - Two and one-half Tom Cruises