Junior seasons are huge from a college football recruiting perspective.
If Division I college coaches haven’t heard of a player by that point in their high school career, this is almost their last chance. Peoria Richwoods (Ill.) High School running back Kendrick Foster, who will sign a letter of intent today to play football at Illinois, made sure his junior season stood out.
Carrying the ball 333 times, Foster rushed for a school-record 2,421 yards and 31 touchdowns.
He threw in seven receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns for the heck of it on a Knights team that ended up second in state in 6A.
“I just give glory to God,” Foster said. “Without Him, my high school career wouldn’t have made a mark in Peoria. I was telling my mom, dad and everywhere else that would listen that I wanted to be the best running back to come through Peoria. My play showed it.”
And he still had one high school season left. But a bigger decision loomed. Where would he play in college?
Foster’s breakout junior season had attracted the interest of several Big Ten schools. Iowa. Northwestern. Purdue.
Yet he only had one scholarship offer — Illinois State.
Then Illinois entered the picture.
Billy Gonzales, last year’s co-offensive coordinator who will coach wide receivers for Illinois next year, was the lead recruiter for Foster.
Four months after Tim Beckman and his staff arrived in Champaign-Urbana, Foster had a scholarship offer from Illinois.
A week later, on April 12, he committed.
“I think a lot of people are going to see that they kind of missed the boat there,” Brown said. “They spent too much time worrying about his size and not enough time looking at his production. I had a coach one time tell me that Bill Parcells said, ‘I don’t really look at size. I look at production.’ Kendrick produces.”
He did again his senior year, rushing for 1,479 yards on 183 carries and scored 16 touchdowns.
The numbers were down from his record-setting junior season, but Foster did play in three fewer games in 2012 since Richwoods lost a second-round 6A playoff game at eventual state champion Crete-Monee.
All told, Foster wound up with 6,131 career rushing yards to set a new standard in Peoria, which stands sixth on the all-time state list according to the Illinois High School Association.
He had become the best running back out of Peoria and received support in the process.
“A lot of people are in my corner,” Foster said. “I feel I’ve got the whole city behind me.”
Ray Rice. The Baltimore Ravens running back is who Foster compares himself to.
“I kind of look at my style as a punisher and a guy that can make you miss,” Foster said. “Even though I’m a smaller back, I can run somebody over or make somebody miss. I have enough speed to get around the corner.”
Possibly even in 2013 for Illinois. Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson will likely head into Camp Rantoul as the team’s primary options out of the backfield for new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
Don’t discount Foster finding himself in the mix for playing time.
“Coach Cubit has a great mind-set for the offense next year,” Foster said. “He said he wants to run more of a pro-style offense mixed with a spread offense to keep the defense on their heels. He said he loves the kind of back I am, and he’s looking forward to working with me. I’m excited because I run good between the tackles, and I have enough speed for a spread offense, too.”
Pass blocking is a skill Foster didn’t have to do much at Richwoods.
That’s one area Brown said his former standout back will need to improve on at Illinois.
Of course, making sure Illinois improves after its forgettable 2-10 season in 2012 is another aspect Foster is intent on fixing.
He kept close tabs on how his future team did last fall, and despite its struggles, never wavered on his decision.
“Seeing their season and how it went, it just looked to me like they need help,” Foster said. “I want to be that person to turn that program around.”
He, and many other players in the Class of 2013, will have the chance.
Brown saw the potential five years ago when he spotted the adolescent with a weighted vest on during summer workouts in Peoria.
“You don’t run for more than 6,000 yards in a career without having something going for you,” Brown said. “He’s a very even-tempered kid and very determined. I consider him to be a great high school player, and I think he’ll be a great college player because when you look at all the great players, they’re the ones that have all kinds of ability and they want to continually try to improve. He’s constantly trying to get better.”