The 90 Illini #1: Johnny Newton
We're here. We've reached #1. I sat down 11 days ago at that chair over there and said that my wife was out of town for work and that I was pretty much going to take 7:00 am until 11:00 pm every day and write more words than I'd ever written in my life. I had to write the preview and I still had 30-some 90 Illini articles to write.
As the weekend arrived it became pretty much 100% "write the preview" so the 90 Illini articles suffered. To the point where I woke up yesterday morning with 22 more 90 Illini articles to write. This one is the #22 of 22. We made it. The preview was finished on Tuesday and I completed The 90 Illini on Friday (er, early Saturday morning). More than 40,000 words typed in 13 days.
So I'm going to write this, go to bed, sleep a while, get up, tailgate all day, not look at my laptop A SINGLE TIME, relax, drink, eat, drink, eat some more, and then watch Illini football.
A team led by:
1. Johnny Newton
Uniform number: 4
Year in school: Junior (3 years to play 2)
Height: 6'-2" -- Weight: 295 lbs.
Hometown: St. Petersburg. Florida
High School: Clearwater Central Catholic HS
Five best offers: Florida, Florida State, Miami, Iowa, Virginia Tech
Previous 90i rankings: #52 (2020), #25 (2021), #5 (2022)
Tom Cruise rating:
2022 statistics: 62 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, three pass breakups, 11 quarterback hurries, and two fumble recoveries.
Here's the most surprising thing about Newton (to me): he just turned 21 on Thursday. His freshman year was the Covid year, so the first game wasn't until October 23rd, but if it had been a normal year and if we had a Week Zero game, Newton would have been 17 years old playing in his first college game. Around here we call that the Isaiah Gay.
The other interesting thing about Newton's background (and this is another thing I wrote in the preview) is that not only was he once committed to Maryland (he later flipped to Illinois), Penn State's Chop Robinson, who will likely be first team All Big Ten DE this fall, played at Maryland for a year before transferring to Penn State. Maryland had a chance for a Johnny Newton/Chop Robinson defensive line. And now they have neither.
62 tackles for a defensive lineman (in 13 games) is just a ridiculous number. We've often seen where a defensive lineman's bio will read "started all 13 games, eleven tackles on the season." Their job is to clog things up so that the linebackers can make the tackles. And Newton made 62 tackles, 14 for loss.
So we go as he goes. He's a special player. He was a second-team All American last year and the goal is first-team All American this year. If everything goes to plan, we'll put his 2023 season up there with 2021 Devon Witherspoon and 2011 Whitney Mercilus.
Go do your thing, Johnny. Starting tomorrow night.