The 90 Illini #35: Darrius Caldwell July 29, 2012
Defensive End (Leo)
6′-5″, 230 lbs.
rs-Freshman (on scholarship, 4 years to play 4)
Mays HS / Atlanta, Georgia
ALE Ranking last year: #73
What I Know About Him:
When Darrius Caldwell is a Hendricks Award finalist and Big Ten Sacks Leader for your 2015 Rose Bowl Champion Fighting Illini, remember to thank the NCAA Clearinghouse. He likely would have played last year if not for the Clearinghouse issues, which means he would be a sophomore this fall, not a redshirt freshman. Which means he would have graduated in 2014 and missed out on being the anchor for the defense opposite the Aaron Bailey/Josh Ferguson-led offense that leads us to the Pasadena Promised Land in 2015. Come join the fun, Laquon. (I know, I know; Laquon won’t be joining the fun.)
Caldwell was a late steal from Atlanta in the 2011 class. He was committed to Georgia Tech, but Vic Koenning and Ron West had connections that led to a late visit and a flip. The main reason for the flip – Koenning sold him on “DeMarcus Ware then Gaines Adams then Da’Quon Bowers then Michael Buchanan then Darrius Caldwell – all players hand-selected (or coached) by Koenning/West as hybrid defensive ends who will take their game to the NFL”. Now it’s Tim Banks/Keith Gilmore’s job to put him in the NFL. I like his chances.
And if you can promise not to tell anyone, Koenning told me in San Francisco that if Caldwell works at it like Mercilus and Buchanan did, he has the talent to be right there with DeMarcus Ware as the best of that bunch.
What I Expect From Him:
Remember how Mike Buchanan was the skinny kid who played a bit as a freshman and then started as a sophomore, had a sneaky good junior campaign where he considered the NFL Draft, and is now set to maybe lead the Big Ten in sacks as a senior? Darrius Caldwell, same trajectory. He’ll back up Buchanan this year, and maybe struggle in run support while flashing out way too wide around the tackle – standard young defensive end stuff – but starting in 2013 through 2015, he’s the guy at Leo (our new name for Bandit).
We’ll need to find him a backup, especially with Brandon Denmark transferring, meaning Caldwell is probably our only true Leo on the roster in 2013. But given what I’ve seen from the kid at practice, plus a few eye opening plays in the spring game, plus Koenning’s comments, I don’t hesitate to say that Caldwell will be an anchor for this defense in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Finishing his career in Pasadena, of course.