I L L April 29, 2012
I can’t stop thinking about the last 72 hours in Illini athletics. A legitimate national football recruit – one who will anchor the 2013 recruiting class – verbals to Illinois. Four of the first 48 picks in the NFL Draft were Illini players. The golf team won their fourth straight Big Ten title when an Indiana golfer triple-bogeyed 17 and an Illini golfer eagled 18. The tennis team also won the Big Ten title by beating Ohio State, the first loss for Ohio State in 92 Big Ten matches. Oh, and the baseball team swept the weekend series from the purple people.
For an athletic department once dominated by the basketball program, this has to be the best year for Illini athletics in a long time, if not ever. Volleyball in the national title game, football back to back bowl wins, women’s soccer wins the Big Ten tourney and goes to the NCAA tournament, wrestling 7th at nationals, gymnastics national championship, golf and tennis Big Ten titles, baseball trying to defend their Big Ten title. And I’m probably forgetting some individuals, like that hurdler guy who might win a national title. It’s a good time year to be orange and blue.
Now, if I know Illini fans well, the only thing you read in the above paragraph was “once dominated by the basketball program” and you kind of blanked out. Here – go watch these videos of the coaches at practice this week. You’ll feel a lot better about the direction we’re heading. For those of you that are like me, and April through August is just one big run-up to the football season, well, the rest of this post is for you.
The good news: all of the buzz surrounding “another Illinois player gets picked – where are the Ohio State and Michigan players”? The bad news: will we still have a solid defense without them?
I watched parts of the Wrigley Field game the other night (yeah, so what? 519 rushing yards). And it occurred to me today that several times during that game, when Clay Nurse would rotate out at DE and Jonathan Brown rotated in at the Will, this was the defense we put on the field:
DE: Whitney Mercilus – 1st round draft pick
DT: Corey Liuget – 1st round draft pick
DT: Akeem Spence – definite draft pick in the 2014 draft and possibly the 2013 draft
DE: Michael Buchanan – not sure which round, but 2013 draft pick
LB: Jonathan Brown – probable draft pick in 2014
LB: Martez Wilson – 3rd round draft pick
LB: Nate Bussey – 7th round draft pick
CB: Terry Hawthorne: definite draft pick this time next year
CB: Justin Green: probable draft pick next spring (speed kills)
S: Tavon Wilson: 2nd round draft pick
S: Trulon Henry: I love me some Trulon, but he wasn’t picked.
If Spence, Buchanan, Brown, Hawthorne, and Green all get drafted next year (or, in Spence and Brown’s case, hopefully, the 2014 draft), that’s 10 players from that defense getting picked in the NFL draft. I don’t think we’ll ever see that again.
Oh yeah, the bad news. After Spence, Buchanan, Brown, Hawthorne, and Green are gone, here’s the list of guys on the defense who are sure-fire NFL draft picks:
Darrius Caldwell has the frame and athleticism to possibly be a 2016 NFL Draft pick?
We have a lot of good young linebackers and one of them is bound to be NFL material?
Gosh TaJarvis Fuller looked good in the Spring Game?
Granted, 8 months ago today you would have laughed at me had I suggested Whitney Mercilus as a 7th round draft pick, let alone first round, so there’s ample time for new stars to emerge. But I still don’t think we’ll see 11 more talented players on the field than that grouping above ever again.
Hey, speaking of talent:
I’m still just as excited as I was when I heard the news on Thursday night. It’s one of those wake-up thoughts, where you turn off the alarm, rub your eyes, and it hits you – we have a legitimate blue-chip quarterback who wants to play his football in Champaign.
Personally, I’m hoping he chooses to redshirt and work on learning the complexities of a college offense (like Nate did). That would make our next six seasons at the quarterback position play out like this:
2012: Scheelhaase, with some O’Toole
2013: Scheelhaase, with maybe even more O’Toole (Bailey redshirts)
2014: O’Toole, with some Bailey worked in here and there.
2017: BAILEY BAILEY BAILEY
Now, we just need to get him some weapons. And fill some holes on future defenses. And upgrade our lines.
Here’s 10 guys I want, just because Aaron Bailey made me feel good about football recruiting again. Please note that this is a “legitimate shot at getting” list – I obviously want in-state guys like OT Ethan Pocic and WR Laquon Treadwell to pick Illinois, but they both have offers from nearly every school in the country. They’re in the “I’m not holding my breath” category (like, you know, Aaron Bailey).
1. DB Darius Mosley (O’Fallon HS): Corner/safety with quicks. Would play early.
2. WR Kwamane Bowens (Virginia Beach Salem HS): Big WR from Chris Beatty land.
3. DE Josh Augusta (Peoria Central HS): Michigan/Oklahoma/Notre Dame offers. We need DE’s – he’d be perfect.
4. DT Kenton Gibbs (Detroit Cass Tech HS): Big DT from a football factory.
5. RB Taquon Mizzell (Virginia Beach Bayside HS): Bayside HS? Is AC Slater the coach? Another Beatty target – this kid has offers from everywhere.
6. LB Eric Beisel (Fenton, MO Summit HS): Our MLB of the future if he picks Illinois.
7. OT Jack Keeler (Barrington HS): We’ve missed on a lot of the in-state tackles already, and we’ll likely miss on Pocic, but Keeler would be a great consolation prize.
8. CB Jalen Banks (Harvey Thornton HS): We need 3 or 4 corners in this class. Mosley-Banks-Cazley would be a fantastic pairing.
9. DT Merrick Jackson (Belleville Althoff HS): Would love a mammoth nose guard in this class – Jackson would be perfect.
10. WR Shelton Gibson (Cleveland Heights HS): I can dream, can’t I? Probably down to Ohio State and Auburn, but Beckman has connections in Cleveland.
I could go on all day. Armed with “we just put 4 kids in the top-50 of the NFL draft” and “Aaron Bailey Aaron Bailey”, we now have a legitimacy that maybe wasn’t there a week ago today. Which means we may be able to sign our best class in the last four years. Which means we might be able to win lots of football games in the future. Which seems to be the thing these days with Illini athletics.
*checks Twitter before posting, sees that Laquon Treadwell just tweeted “Bailey to Treadwell for the touchdown”*