Signing Day Breakdown 2012 February 1, 2012
The Signing Day post is always a little celebration around here. Today, this little blog turns three. The terrible twos are behind us – my last dance with irresponsibility was the U MAD BRO? Weber photo – and it’s time to grow up and start thinking about preschool. May Year Four be full of play dates, naps, and Yo Gabba Weber.
(Yo Gabba Weber. Yep. Entering Year Four, and I just ran with Yo Gabba Weber.)
Here’s how these posts work. Because I’m OCD for the Illini, I watch all of the recruits on tape throughout the year. In the Signing Day Breakdown, I give you my opinion on each player. And I rank them in categories: Instant Impact Players, Great Gets, Recruits I’m Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why, Recruits I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why, and Recruits I Just Don’t Know Much About. Since this is the 4th of these, let’s see how I did with the 2009 class:
Instant Impact Players: Terry Hawthorne
Great Gets: Nathan Scheelhaase, Lendell Buckner, Justin Green, Michael Buchanan
Excited About, Can’t Tell You Why: Walt Aikens, Eric Watts, Steve Hull, Hugh Thornton, Bud Golden
Not Excited About, Can’t Tell You Why: Leon Hill, Justin Lattimore, Greg Fuller, Jake Feldmeyer
Don’t Know Enough To Make A Judgement Call: Darryl Lee, Aaron Gress, Andrew Carter, Tommie Hopkins, Tim Kynard, Joelil Thrash, and Akeem Spence.
I was doing so well until that very last name, wasn’t I?
Before I get in to this class, three general thoughts:
1) This is probably our lowest ranked class in about 10 years. And I really don’t fault Tim Beckman one bit. This class was ranked last in the Big Ten when he took over, and he’s done the best he can in the last 6 weeks to scrape together a full recruiting class. As I said a few weeks ago, he gets a Get Out Of Jail Free card with this one.
2) This class proves that recruiting is about relationships. Of the 10 players that he brought in for his first class at Illinois, 6 of them were guys he was actively recruiting at Toledo. Knowing his limitations with a 6 week timeline, I’m guessing he targeted guys from his Toledo list who he felt could play in the Big Ten. That’s all good and fine for this class, but next year, he has to develop those relationships with what looks like the best in-state class in years.
3) Hello Cleveland. Rock and roll. Beckman grew up in Berea, Ohio (suburb of Cleveland), and 5 of the 10 recruits he added to this class are within a 30 minute drive of Berea. Remember how Zook had a high concentration of players from Jacksonville, Florida (Disch) and Washington DC (Locksley)? It looks like the main area where Beckman will try to get plugged in is Cleveland.
OK – to the list.
INSTANT IMPACT PLAYERS
TaJarvis Fuller (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Fort Meyers, FL (Dunbar)
Best offers: Georgia Tech, Louisville, Wisconsin, UCLA
The biggest reason I think TaJarvis will be an instant impact player: he’s already in school. He’s one of two recruits in this class (Daniel Rhodes is the other) to enroll early, so he’ll get a head start on learning Tim Banks’ defense in the spring. Another reason: if he can play strong safety, he might play right away.
Watching his film, he probably projects as a linebacker type. He was a Zook recruit, and I believe Vic Koenning had designs on making him a Busseybacker. There’s been a lot of talk that Beckman’s defenses have always had a “star” linebacker (more or less a Busseybacker – half safety, half linebacker), so it’s possible that Fuller could end up there. But part of me still wants him as a big-hittin’ Kevin Mitchell safety.
ALE Projection: These projections will be hard this year, mostly because we don’t know the specifics of the schemes yet. So I’ll go out on a limb and say that Banks’ defense has room for a linebackery safety, and Fuller gets some minutes backing up Supo Sanni.
Here’s Fuller when he signed with Illinois:
TJ Neal (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Best Offers: Auburn, Florida, Nebraska, USC
Of all the players I reviewed, Neal probably looks the best on tape. You know how some linebackers just seem to toy with the offensive lineman getting to the second level that are trying to block them? How they kind of keep them at arms length until they’re ready to shed them and make the tackle? That’s what I love about Neal. He shed’s his block and wraps up – looks like he’s had good coaching in high school.
But I’m putting him down here and not in “Instant Impact Players” because we’re just fine at linebacker next year. Jonathan Brown in the middle, Houston Bates (and maybe Henry Dickinson) one one side, Ashante Williams (or maybe Earnest Thomas or Zeph Grimes) on the other. So I think Neal is coming in and trying to fight Ralph Cooper for backup middle linebacker.
ALE Projection: No redshirt, special teams player, a few spot minutes at middle linebacker. But in the future, I think he’s Jonathan Brown’s replacement.
Dami Ayoola (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Ft. Lauderdale, FL (St. Thomas Aquinas)
Best Offers: Notre Dame, Auburn, Wisconsin, West Virginia
I know you’re wondering – it’s pronounced “Dommy Uh-YOO-luh”. And he comes from the top high school program in the country (St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale). I thought we’d lose him to Notre Dame, and I was certain that he would decommit – he verballed to Illinois only 2 days before Zook was fired – but in the end, even though it appeared he might go to Boston College, he stuck with Illinois.
Ayoola is an interesting little tailback. He’s short (5′-9″ or so), but he’s not a scatback. He’s more of a power runner, with thick legs and a powerful drive. The thing I like best about him is his change of direction. He has that quick hop to the left or right to avoid a tackler that Pierre Thomas has. It will be interesting to see how we use him. Next year, Donovonn Young is the power back and Josh Ferguson is the scatback, but Ayoola will probably get carries as well. He’s 5′-9″, but I think we use him more like Young than Ferguson.
ALE Projection: We need three tailbacks, so one of the freshmen will play. I’m guessing Ayoola is the guy. I think he’ll be 4th on the team in rushing next fall, behind Scheelhaase, Young, and Ferguson.
V’Angelo Bentley (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on Scout, not rated by ESPN)
Cleveland, OH (Glenville)
Best Offers: Iowa, Pittsburgh, Kansas, Air Force
He’s not ranked as high as some of these other guys, and he doesn’t have the offers that the players above have, but I might be more excited about Bentley than any other player in this class. We need cornerbacks so very badly, and I think this kid can be a great one. Go watch some of his highlights from this video to see what I’m talking about. It’s 14 minutes long, so just skip to the 2:10 mark and watch all of his highlights from the game that Glenville played at Ohio State’s stadium. Punt return for a touchdown, fumble return for a touchdown, and several great runs (he was a tailback in high school but projects as a corner in college).
I’m a huge fan of high school tailbacks at cornerback (see: Green, Justin). And with Green and Hawthorne set to graduate next year, we’ll have openings for starters at both cornerback spots. I’m guessing Bentley will hold down one of those spots in 2013.
ALE Projection: I don’t think he redshirts. I think he’s our 3rd or 4th corner next year, and a starter in 2013. That’s probably putting too much on a kid who only had 4 or 5 BCS offers, but I really like his film. And his high school. And his hat.
Teko Powell (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Miami, FL (Norland)
Best Offers: Florida, Florida State, LSU, Wisconsin
I see a theme developing. It’s called “recruit guys from high school powerhouse programs”. Ayoola is from St. Thomas Aquinas. Bentley from Cleveland Glenville. And Powell is from Miami Norland. These are high schools that produce multiple FBS athletes every single year, so I’m glad that Beckman’s staff is targeting the factories.
Powell fits a big need – we’re pretty short on defensive tackles once Glenn Foster graduates and Akeem Spence possibly leaves for the NFL (something I think he does after next season). We have Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma, and I think redshirt freshman Chris O’Connor might play some DT, but that’s it. So getting a good DT from a good program with a great offer list is a big win.
ALE Projection: I still think he redshirts, though. Next year, we’ll have Spence and Foster starting with Howe and Teitsma backing them up – I think Powell redshirts and adds some weight to his current +/- 280 pounds (ESPN lists him at 250 pounds).
RECRUITS I’M EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY
LaKeith Walls (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Running Back / Athlete
Cleveland, OH (Rhodes)
Best Offers: Iowa, Louisville, NC State, Pittsburgh
All Cleveland all the time. That’s a theme you’ll see in this class and hopefully the next eight. Our head coach is more plugged-in in Cleveland than any other city, so that’s where we’ll recruit the hardest.
Walls is an interesting prospect. He doesn’t go to one of the football factory schools in Cleveland, so he’s a little off the radar, but I feel like we found a steal. He’s maybe too tall for a running back but has many long runs on his film. And he runs kind of weird (upright with shoulders moving), but he’s deceptively fast. So my hope is that he finds his way to safety, learns some technique, and then uses that speed to blow up receivers over the middle.
And, of course, by “blow up” I simply mean “gently help to the ground within the rules of football”.
ALE Projection: Tried at tailback, sitting behind Young, Ferguson, and Ayoola, switches to safety as a redshirt freshman, blows people up starting in 2014.
Vontrell Williams (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Chicago, IL (Mt. Carmel)
Best Offers: Michigan State, Kansas, Indiana
All Chicago all the time. If we’re going to get plugged in with Cleveland Glenville and Miami Norland, let’s get in good with Mt. Carmel as well. And if we’re going to get in good with Mt. Carmel, why not bring in an athletic defensive tackle who can move a little bit?
I really like Williams on film, and I have no idea why he only had 3 other BCS offers. He’s big, strong, and surprisingly mobile. I think he challenges for playing time in 2013.
ALE Projection: Redshirt for strength, he and Powell push Teitsma and Howe for playing time in 2013.
Joseph Spencer (3-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Best Offers: Cincinnati, NC State, South Florida
I really like this guy. I like what some of the talent evaluators at Rivals had to say. I like that he finishes blocks on film. I like that he projects as a center. I like that he’s an offensive lineman from Ohio, because for some reason, in my head, offensive linemen from Ohio are 31% better than offensive linemen from any other state.
ALE Projection: Redshirt for strength (duh), and then he’s immediately in the competition with Jake Feldmeyer and Tony Durkin for the starting center position after Graham Pocic graduates next year.
Devin Church (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Bloomfield, MI (Brother Rice)
Best Offers: Boston College, NIU, Toledo
Flipped him from NIU, so he’s automatically going to be as diamond-in-the-rough as Jon Asamoah, another player we flipped from the Huskies. And I like him on film – great vision. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I’m a sucker for great vision. What made Mikel Leshoure great in my book was his ability to see a hole before it was there. And run full speed at that spot until it appeared. And then make one extra cut once he got through that hole. I see some of that in Church’s film. Does he have the physical skills to make it work? We’ll see.
I’m also working on some Rick Reilly-ish quips for Church in a few years. Stuff like “CALL ME SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST BECAUSE I LIKE CHURCH ON SATURDAYS”. It’s gonna be epic(ally bad).
ALE Projection: I’m 50-50 on Church redshirting. If Ayoola can be our #3 tailback, then yes, I think Church redshirts. But there’s a chance he plays. There’s also a chance that all three tailbacks work out and we move Church to corner (like Justin Green).
RECRUITS I’M NOT THAT EXCITED ABOUT BUT CAN’T REALLY TELL YOU WHY
Ryan Frain (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Indianapolis, IN (Scecina)
Best Offers: Georgia Tech
I always have to begin players listed in this category with a giant NO DISRESPECT disclaimer. I’m simply calling it like I see it. And this one I don’t get.
Yes, we lost Derek Dimke. But at kicker, we have Nick Immekus. And Taylor Zalewski. And Baron Von Mieghem. And Patrick Dunn. Out of those four we can’t find a solid kicker? To the point where we had to use a scholarship to get one? I don’t get it.
(This means Frain will win the job and kick a 59 yarder to beat Northwestern)
(Just kidding. No chance we’d need a last-second field goal to beat Fitzee)
BJ Bello (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on Scout, not evaluated by ESPN)
New Lenox, IL (Lincoln Way West)
Best Offers: Toledo, Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Ball State
We do need safeties. But I’m not sure if we need safeties who we flipped from Western Michigan. Sorry, BJ, nothing personal, but the word “Western” followed by the word “Michigan” makes me flinch. So while I’m glad you chose the orange and blue over that awful school from Kalamazoo, I’m still gonna keep one eye on you, because there’s a 17% chance you’re a Western Michigan spy.
Mason Monheim (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Best Offers: the entire MAC conference (seriously – 11 offers, 10 from the MAC and one from Illinois)
We need linebackers? I didn’t know we needed linebackers. After TJ Neal and Tajarvis Fuller, I kinda thought we didn’t need any more linebackers. With BadNewsBrown and RBOBK (Houston Bates) and Dickinson and Cooper and Zeph Grimes and Earnest Thomas, I thought we were pretty set at linebacker. Add Neal and Fuller to that mix, and I’m surprised we also added Monheim and…
Mike Svetina (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Cleveland, OH (St. Ignatius)
Best Offers: Syracuse, Air Force, Toledo
We need linebackers? Gosh, I’m being unfair here. Monheim and Svetina could be J Leman and Brit Miller, and here I am claiming there’s no room at the inn.
Wait – Svetina is in the 6′-2″/6′-3″ range, right? Any chance we can bulk him up and move him to defensive end? We can? GOOD. I’m on board. Welcome Mike Svetina.
RECRUITS I JUST DON’T KNOW THAT MUCH ABOUT
Robbie Bain (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Best Offers: Colorado State, Western Michigan, Bowling Green
I get to use this once per year, so I’m choosing to use it here: Offensive linemen are a crapshoot. 2-star guys go to the NFL, 4-star guys never find the field. So with many offensive linemen recruits, I don’t pay much attention. Redshirt, get stronger, understudy, let’s see what you got in 2014.
Daniel Rhodes (2-star on Rivals, unknown, unknown)
Charlotte, NC (Independence)
Best Offers: can’t remember
Totally forgot about Rhodes. He was one of the guys that was on our committed list last year right up until signing day, and then he and Hunter Wells went elsewhere (Wells eventually ended up at Miami, FL, and Rhodes disappeared). Well, as of today, he’s back. And I can’t remember anything about him besides thinking “maybe he’ll grow into a left tackle” last year.
Taylor Barton (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on ESPN, 2-star on Scout)
Orlando, FL (Lake Highland)
Best Offers: Syracuse, Temple, Ball State
We need safeties. He’s a safety. That’s all I got. His offer list isn’t strong, but he’s a defensive back from Florida, so that makes me happy. Given the numbers issues, he might find the field sooner rather than later.
Jevaris Little (3-star on Rivals, 2-star on Scout, not evaluated by ESPN)
St. Petersburg, FL (Lakewood)
Best Offers: Indiana, Kansas, Toledo
This one came down to Illinois and Indiana, with Illinois coming out on top. The good news: he’s a defensive back from Florida. The bad news: this one came down to Illinois or Indiana.
Justin Hardee (2-star on Rivals, 2-star on Scout, not evaluated by ESPN)
Cleveland, OH (Glenville)
Best Offers: Toledo, Bowling Green, Ohio
There’s that Cleveland word again. How many Browns fans can one team recruit? Hardee is a teammate of Bentley and projects as a wide receiver. But given his size and athleticism, I want him at safety.
Jason Robertson (2-star on Rivals, 3-star on ESPN, 3-star on Scout)
Frankfort, IL (Lincoln Way East)
Best Offers: Western Michigan (his only other listed offer)
Every year, there’s a guy in the class that I should pay more attention to but don’t. For whatever reason. It was Akeem Spence in 2009 – I was all fired up about the late flip of Justin Green from Ohio State to Illinois that I didn’t pay attention to a defensive tackle from Florida who committed late. This year, it’s Robertson. Scout and ESPN both list him as one of our top-5 recruits. Why would I more or less ignore an in-state receiver listed highly like that?
I promise to do better next year. And I’ll go watch more of his film later and maybe come back and edit this.
It is now time to DO. WORK. As of right… NOW the grace period for Tim Beckman’s recruiting is over. He found some nice pieces in the last 6 weeks, fought off some other suitors for guys like Ayoola and Powell, and filled some needs last minute with guys like Bentley.
But now – as in, right now – it is time to DO. WORK. The 2013 class in-state keeps looking better by the day. Guys like Ty Issac and Logan Tuley Tillman already look like 5-star possibilities. Aaron Bailey MUST be our quarterback of the future. We need top-end talent and soon. At the high point of his recruiting, I believe Ron Zook had 19 four-star players on his roster at the beginning of 2009. After the final whistle next November in Evanston, we’ll be down to one (Nathan Scheelhaase) for 2013. One.
You can’t win 8 games in the Big Ten with one blue chipper. You just can’t. So it it imperative that Tim Beckman bring in talent talent talent in 2013.
OK, I can’t close with that. The label for the 2012 class can’t be “hope we get some blue chippers in 2013″. Guys like Teko Powell, TJ Neal, and Dami Ayoola could have named their school, and they picked Illinois. Welcome, gentlemen. Time for you to be the class that builds the foundation for the new era of Illini Football. Where every other player is a linebacker.