Signing Day Breakdown 2011 February 2, 2011
There were two first posts on ALionEye.com. The first was a test post on basketball signing day in November 2008. Its contents are so embarrassing – I believe I predicted Houston in 2011 – that I think I made it private and un-viewable to the public. It’s still there somewhere, so if we have the world’s most surprising turnaround and make some crazy run to the Final Four, I’ll pull it back out and point to it as clairvoyant.
The second was my football signing day breakdown in 2009. That’s the first post that I emailed to a few friends to say “hey, I started that blog thing I’ve always talked about.” Because I mark that as the anniversary of this site, I feel obligated to crank it up a notch each year. Last year, my post was twice as long. This year, I’m going for broke. Everything you wanted to know about this recruiting class and more. And then a little more.
INSTANT IMPACT PLAYERS:
Dondi Kirby (4-star on Rivals, 4-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
We’re probably pretty fortunate that he tore his ACL last June. Because if he hadn’t, I don’t think he’d be heading to Champaign. We never get athletic, rangy, tall safeties at Illinois. Because if they’re athletic and tall and rangy, they’re usually headed to Florida or USC. Just like Kirby likely was before he tore his ACL during a summer camp. Because of that, he missed his senior season. Because of that, the big programs that had offered him (like Florida and USC and Ohio State and Michigan and dozens of others) apparently backed off a bit. He took two visits in December (Iowa and Illinois) and settled on Illinois. Smart kid.
His signing probably has Vic Koenning doing backflips today. Koenning has said he wants 5 safeties and 5 cornerbacks in the rotation every game, and he just didn’t have the players to do that last year. If Kirby’s knee is ahead of schedule, he might find the rotation this fall.
ALE Projection: I’ll go conservative and say that he’ll redshirt to make sure his knee is 100% rehabbed. He’ll then back up Supo Sanni for a year before starting at safety for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons.
Clint Tucker (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
East St. Louis, IL
I read somewhere that he still had work to do to qualify. I certainly hope that was just a rumor. The biggest void on the current roster is at defensive tackle after Corey Liuget jumped to the NFL. Where will we look to fill that void? The two redshirt freshmen (Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe) and Clint Tucker.
Tucker was once a Kentucky commit, but he found himself Zooked at the beginning of September. He had a successful senior season (before his team was kicked out of the playoffs for having an ineligible player). Tucker made the NUC Gridiron Classic (high school all-star game) where he reportedly performed well against top competition. He’s already huge (close to 300 lbs.), so my main concern is that he gets too huge. If he can add more muscle to his giant frame, he could be a really special player as an upperclassman.
ALE Projection: If qualified, I think he cracks the two-deep next year, backing up Akeem Spence. I think Spence and Glenn Foster start, with Austin Teitsma backing up Foster and Clint Tucker backing up Spence. Ultimately, I’d love to play Spence and Tucker next to each other, but I think they both project for the same tackle spot.
Darrius Caldwell (3-star on Rivals, 4-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Defensive End / Bandit
Georgia Tech stole Illinois commit Tyler Marcordes in December. We returned the favor by stealing Caldwell away from Georgia Tech in January. How did we do it? My guess – we convinced him that Koenning’s bandit position was perfect for a smaller defensive end such as himself. Because it is.
My hope is that Caldwell starts at Bandit and then grows into a defensive end (the same as my hope for Justin Staples next year). Vic Koenning might not agree, but I want our bandits to grow into defensive ends and our linebackers to grow into bandits. Athletes athletes everywhere.
ALE Projection: If qualified (I hate throwing “if qualified” around again, but until the rumors settle and reports surface that Tucker and Caldwell are fully qualified, I’ll remain nervous), I think Caldwell sees a Brandon Denmark level of on-the-field play next fall. Special teams, a few plays here and there at Bandit, a few plays here and there as a rush linebacker.
Jon Davis (3-star on Rivals, 4-star on ESPN, 4-star on Scout)
Coffee is for closers. Ron Zook gets coffee. Last Wednesday or Thursday, amid reports from Kentucky sites that Davis had decided to stick with Kentucky, Ron Zook got the final in-home visit. And when Davis announced for the Illini this afternoon, Ron Zook drank some coffee and bench-pressed a secretary. Big, athletic kid that could probably play anywhere from tailback to defensive end, Davis is probably on his way to being Paul Petrino’s favorite new toy.
I talked a lot last spring about the Petrino H-Back position. Part tight end, part fullback, part awesome. And then this fall, we didn’t really utilize the position except to add an extra tight end blocker (like Eddie Viliunas in the Northwestern game). My guess is that Zach Becker’s injury, combined with Evan Wilson’s true tight end-ness and Jay Prosch’s true fullback-ness, led us to not use a playmaker at the H-back position. Enter Davis. Probably this fall.
ALE Projection: Davis is 2011′s Evan Wilson: freshman who plays a huge role in the offense. Plue 12 catches. And a few carries. Ah, what the heck – and one pass.
Justin DuVernois (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Fort Lauderdale, FL
If this is the “impact players” category, he really should be at the top. Because he’s probably the most important recruit on this list.
Faced with a graduating punter and only two freshmen walk-ons on the roster, Zook decided to offer a scholarship to a punter. Duvernois comes from a great high school – they place a kicker or punter at a BCS school every year (the kid who kicked the winning field goal in the NCAA championship game – Wes Bynum – was a St. Thomas Aquinas kicker). DuVernois had a solid outing in his final game, too: 41 yard average and 3 of 5 punts downed inside the 20 in the Florida State Championship game.
ALE Projection: Starting punter vs. Arkansas State on Labor Day weekend (SO glad I don’t have to say “against Missouri” any more).
Zeph Grimes (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
He’s the “I just have a really good feeling about him” recruit of the 2011 class for me. Solid offer list (Michigan State, Arkansas, Ole Miss) that would have gotten better, in my opinion, had he not committed in April. Great high school program, solid measurables, and, most importantly, a Vic Koenning hand-picked safety prospect.
The players listed above are probably all certain freshman contributors. Grimes is not. But I’m putting him up here because it just feels right. Zeph Grimes – 2011 Camp Rantoul Camp Crush clubhouse leader.
ALE Projection: I’m going to wishcast him into Tavon Wilson’s eventual replacement. One (true freshman) year in a backup role, one year splitting starters minutes, 2 years as a solid starter at safety.
Pat Flavin (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Probably our left weakside tackle of the future. Ok, I’ll be bolder: our left weakside tackle of the future. Maybe as early as 2012, although I see a scenario where Corey Lewis slides over to the left weakside in 2012 after a year at right strongside tackle in 2011. Regardless, I’m really excited about Flavin. 6′-7″ and agile – everything you want in a weakside tackle.
Reilly O’Toole (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
OK, I’ll be honest. I should be much more excited about O’Toole than I am. 71% completion percentage on 262 passes totaling 3,187 yards and 42 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions as a senior, and I’m still on the fence? What is wrong with me?
Numbers – that’s what is wrong with me. O’Toole played for the best program in the state, 2-time defending state champ Wheaton Warrenville South. And any time a QB puts up gaudy numbers playing for a top program, I get scared. Is it the QB, or is it the top offense in the state? It’s probably both, and I should probably shut up, but I’m still concerned. Regardless, when Rivals moved him from the 25th best Pro-style QB prospect to the 8th best Pro-style QB prospect last week, I felt pretty good. The kid’s really good. Probably.
ALE Projection: Starting QB for the Illini in 2014 and 2015. To accomplish that, he’ll need to redshirt this fall. Redshirt, 2 years as a backup, 2 years as a star.
Chris Boles (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Boles is probably the best interior lineman recruit we have in 2011. And he’s probably the most ready to contribute early. At 315 pounds, he might need to drop a few pounds, not gain a few like the rest of the offensive line recruits.
But I have a secondary motive for liking Boles. I think he might get a look at defensive tackle. When I saw some film of him at some lineman camp, for some reason he reminded me of Brandon Moore. And since Brandon Moore was a pretty good defensive tackle that turned out be a solid NFL offensive guard, I made the connection. We need some big bodies at defensive tackle – maybe give Boles a shot?
ALE Projection: Ok, I’m probably dreaming of him at defensive tackle. Let’s redshirt him, give him a few years to learn the system, and then let him compete for a guard spot after, say, Hugh Thornton graduates.
Matt Lacosse (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Athlete / Tight End
Lacosse feels like one of those Iowa tight ends we’ve grown to hate. Best athlete in his school, played QB, projects as a tight end in college. I think Iowa has had 94 such players the last 10 years. I’m thinking he redshirts to build strength and learn his new position, and then he finds the field in 2012, building to a starting role in 2014 and 2015. Wait, I jumped ahead again, didn’t I?
ALE Projection: I’m thinking he redshirts to build strength and learn his new position, and then he finds the field in 2012, building to a starting role in 2014 and 2015.
RECRUITS I’M EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY
Henry Dickinson (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
I love this kid’s film. (If you’re a Rivals subscriber, go watch his film on his profile page here) Every time I watch it, I wonder why he’s not rated higher. I already hate myself for saying this, but he looks a bit like Brit Miller. Not as fast, but he appears to have the same instincts. I’d love to have another Brit Miller.
ALE Projection: Redshirt, bigger/stronger/faster, start to make an impact during his redshirt sophomore year.
Jeremy Whitlow (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Another film thing. Go watch the footwork at the :50 mark of this video. Seriously, I’ll wait. Go check it out.
Loved the little jab step to get the corner to open up and then the fly-by, didn’t you? No he’s not a burner. He’s not the biggest guy, or the strongest. If you wanted to, you could play the “he kind of runs weird” card. But I’m still excited about him. He showed some nice YAC vision in that video, and I’m excited to see what he looks like in Rantoul.
ALE Projection: You know what? I’m already over 2,000 words, we’re not even halfway through the class, and I’ll likely put “Redshirt, bigger/stronger/faster, start to make an impact during his redshirt sophomore year” for the majority of the players remaining. I’ll end this “projection” feature and just talk about the players from here on out.
Jordan Frysinger (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Athlete / Tailback / Slot Receiver
Certainly a head-scratcher when he verballed. We had just put together a bowl season, which meant we had a shot at closing the class with a strong push. And then we take a flyer on a lacrosse player from New York? Really?
Given the time to look at some film and study this a little more, I like the signing. Many times, I like signings like this more than I like the 2-star kids that visited several junior days, did the camp circuit, and came away with only MAC or Sun-Belt offers. Frysinger is out of nowhere. But he’s a great athlete with quick feet – I’m excited to see what Paul Petrino can design for him in the future.
Ted Karras (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
OK, I’ll admit it. It’s for the name. And the Mongo jokes.
That, and I’m a sucker for bloodlines. Ted Karras III will be the seventh member of his family to play Big Ten football, the most famous being Alex Karras (Ted III’s great uncle), who played at Iowa and went on to a Pro-Bowl career with the Detroit Lions before finding his true calling as George Papadapolis.
All of this, of course, gives me a Luke Butkus vibe. Karras be an awesome interior lineman for the Illini simply because of his name.
Chris Jones (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
You can always count on Dan Disch to pull in a Jacksonville kid. With Jones, he waited until today to pull him in. Jones was an NC State commitment, but switched to Illinois today.
I’m excited about Jones mostly because of what position he plays and what area he hails from. There was an excellent article in Sports Illustrated last week about the number of NFL defensive linemen who went to high school in the south. The map linked in that article is pretty stunning. Given our recent success with defensive tackles from Florida (two guys named Liuget and Spence), I’m thrilled that Jones made the switch this morning.
RECRUITS I’M NOT THAT EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY
Donovonn Young (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
I’m sorry. I really am. I’ve tried for three weeks to build up my excitement for Young. “He was injured his junior year and fell off the map”, I’d tell myself. “Look at his numbers and his film – how does that not scream BCS tailback?”
I haven’t been able to get there. I’ll keep trying. But when I try, I can’t get past the fact that if we hadn’t offered, he’d probably be heading to McNeese State or Gardner-Webb. Katy, Texas isn’t exactly Nowheresville. Why no offers? Why wouldn’t a lower-end Texas school take a flyer on him?
I might come around in a few weeks. He did look like high school Jason Ford on film, spin moves and leg drive and whatnot. But today, I just can’t get past the McNeese State.
Kenny Knight (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Beverly Hills, MI
I watched both Knight and Whitlow’s film, and I liked Whitlow better. But I will say this – Knight has the most upside, mostly because you can’t teach height. Knight looks big and strong on film, but he also looks a bit slow. Best case: Walter Young 2.0. Worst case: (name redacted because I always feel bad about throwing a former Illini player under the bus.)
Ralph Cooper (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
I know, right? Big, strong, fast linebacker from a recruiting area where Vic Koenning and Ron West loved to find big, strong, fast linebackers when they were coaching at Clemson, and I’m not excited? What’s wrong with me (Part II)?
To be honest, I’m probably sour on Cooper because of his size. We’ve had success of late with rangy middle linebackers – the thick, stout middle linebacker recruits like Evan Frierson and Dustin Jefferson, just haven’t worked out, with the Disch/Mallory defense nor the Koenning defense. That’s what worries me about Cooper. He’s 225 now – when he bulks up and adds muscle, can he play linebacker in this defense at 240 pounds? (Well, come to think of it, Jonathan Brown can, so maybe my worries aren’t warranted.)
Josh Ferguson (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
It’s the size. He’s listed as 5′-8″, but when you watch film of him in high school, he’ll had the ball to the official and you’d swear he’s 5′-6″.
Yes, he’s lighting quick, and we can always use speed. But it’s hard to get past his height. You have to be a crazy good athlete to overcome 5′-7″ on the football field. I’m just not sure Ferguson is quick enough to overcome his size. I have this hangup where you need to be Jeff Demps or LaMichael James fast to overcome 5′-7″. Hopefully, Ferguson gets me past my hangup.
Tony Durkin (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Tinley Park, IL
Again, just a feeling. I’m probably more excited about Karras simply because of his name. But I always try to be practical when it comes to recruiting and offensive linemen. We bring in 4 or 5 every year, and typically only 40% or so ever find the field. Some transfer, some remain career backups, and some find there way to the starting line. For this class, I’m high on Flavin and Karras and Boles, which means I’m not high on Durkin and…
Scott McDowell (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Last year, we brought in Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic to play tackle. One of them will make the two deep. One of them will go the career backup/transfer route. It happens every year. This year, at tackle, we’re bringing in Flavin and McDowell. One of them will be Jeff Allen in a few years. The other will be Craig Wilson. No offense to McDowell – I mean, I could make a ton of “and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in” jokes over the next five years – but I’m a Flavin guy.
RECRUITS I JUST DON’T KNOW THAT MUCH ABOUT
Willie Beavers (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Lathrup Villiage, MI
A 6′-6″ defensive tackle? OK. But, um, what?
Valdon Cooper (3-star on Rivals, 1-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
ATH / Defensive Back
Track guy with speed. Projects as a defensive back. That’s all I got.
Nick North (2-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
I should know more about him. I need to watch more film. Safeties from south Florida are good 93.3% of the time. It’s science.
Kenny Nelson (2-star on Rivals, 3-star on Scout, 2-star on Scout)
A saw some grainy film on Nelson, and he looked, I don’t know, too thick in his legs for a defensive end. Move inside to DT, perhaps?
Chris O’Connor (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Tinley Park, IL
Haven’t watched any film, for some reason. I don’t know much except for 240 lb. defensive linemen, they need a redshirt and a few years in the weight room before they’re ready for the Big Ten.
Eaton Spence (2-star on Rivals, unrated on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Belle Glade, FL
This one was out of nowhere. We’re supposedly out of scholarships, we already have a cornerback from Belle Glade, Florida, and suddenly Spence is a commitment and JT Thornton (his teammate) isn’t. That’s truly the extent of my knowledge. Were I to write his bio today, it would say “From Belle Glade, Florida. Teammate of one-time Illini commitment JT Thornton.”
A solid finish for the Zooker. I was skeptical, but he took his bowl season and sold it to Pat Flavin and Dondi Kirby and Darrius Caldwell and Jon Davis. I’d say 6 of the 10 best recruits in this class came since the end of the season. One (maybe two) of those 6 arrived today.
Where does this class rank in the Big Ten? Definitely behind Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State. But with the additions today of Davis and Jones, I like it better than Wisconsin (not much sizzle) and Penn State (very small class), and maybe even Iowa. But that’s just because I hate Iowa.
The bad news? There are 27 players on this list. We can only enroll 25. That means two players (maybe more) wont make it into school this summer (or will accept grayshirts to get a 2012 scholarship instead). If, say, Jones and Caldwell don’t qualify, this class takes a hit. Jury remains out until July.
But for now, I’m very pleased. Probably a B- class that moved to a solid B with two great athletes getting Zooked on signing day.
Zook gets coffee.