Talk to News-Gazette prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner
Greetings to everyone. Hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving and a relaxing break. It's time to get back to work, so we'll jump into this week's assortment of questions.
I'm looking forward to the All Area football 1st team selections! Are any of the football picks also excellent basketball players and potential 1st teamers in both sports this year? You probably can't reveal any names today, but is it common for a boy athlete to be chosen 1st team in both sports? How often has it happened in past 20-30 years?
Hi Leonard. This isn't the first time the question has been posed about how many area athletes have been first-team All-Area in football and basketball the same school year. I've done some research and traced in back to the early 1990s when Shawn Fatheree from Monticello last earned the elite honor in both sports. I wish I could put an actual number on how often it has happened, but the only records available are in microfilm and that is a tedious task to undertake. As for this year, there could be three possible candidates, but only one at this time that I see as a strong contender. I doubt if it's any secret that Danville's Dennis Hightower is on the All-Area football team (which will be released in our Thursday, Dec. 1 editions). He accounted for nearly 3,000 yards of offense this year and 37 TDs between running and throwing. He is a very good basketball player, too, and would be in the conversation when you're discussing the 10 or 20 best in the area. His performance will be somewhat determined by which other players -- and how many -- step up as big-time contributors on his team. He led the Vikings in scoring in their first four games and has the potential to be a top scorer because he can create shots as well as shoot from the perimeter.
Are there any area football players who might have the chance to play in college at the Division I level? I saw the state championship games from the bigger schools and those guys look like they're on another level! Thanks.
Hi Joey. That's an excellent question. Let me start by saying this. Remember when J Leman graduated from Champaign Central? He was a tremendous high school player, but there were questions whether he could play and contribute at a major college. He went to Illinois and proved people wrong. He might have been even better in college than in high school. If the question is are there area athletes who could play at that level, the answer most assuredly is yes. The bigger question is whether they will get that chance. There's no one currently that the recruiters are all over, but there are some who, if they believe in themselves, and perhaps want to start as a walkon could eventually make it. A few names come to mind, in no particular order. One would be Pedro Leal, Arcola's placekicker. He is steady and has good range and consistency, but kickers are generally not high on the list of scholarships offers. Urbana's Marcus Hendricks has quickness and good hands. He could be an asset as a receiver or in the secondary. I personally agree with Tuscola coach Rick Reinhart's assement of his tackling leader, senior linebacker T.J. Onstott. "If he were 6-3 (instead of 5-9), he could go anywhere he wanted," Reinhart said. College coaches sometimes get so caught up in numbers such as size, they don't consider many of the other intangibles such as heart, desire, commitment, tenacity. There is surely somewhere Onstott could play. Obviously, Danville's Dennis Hightower would be in that same group, though I believe he will be starting at a junior college first. Among younger players, someone like Centennial junior Fletcher Evans could be in the mix. He has a good combination of size (6-3/215) and is a relative newcomer to football, so should have a huge upside. Zack Becker went from St. Joseph-Ogden to the UI basically unrecruited, but wound up being a contributor when he wasn't injured. There are others out there now like him, good quality athletes who could make an impact if the opportunity presents itself.
Fred,Well another year is over in High School Football. Thank Goodness Rochester won in 4-A or Central Illinois Football would have been done in. The other 7 winners were from the far north or Chicago Suburbs. The way Rochester, Montini and Joliet Catholic Played it looks like things aren't going to change for a while. Rochester only returned two Players from last years state titleist but won again. Lombard Montini has won 3 Titles in a row. Of course Joliet Catholic is always a possibility. In the Big 12 since 1974 Normal is the only State Winner in 2006. Bloomington 4 seconds,Normal 2 seconds and Danville 1 second. Not very good for 37 years. Tuscola is the only team I see in the small schools having a chance for another Title. Teams like Dakota,Freeport and the NW part of the State are going to make it hard on area teams in Classes 1,2,3, Chicago Suburbs and Northern Teams will continue to grow.What will it take for Central Illinois Teams to get back in to Finals?
Hi Tom. What a weekend of football. Who could have predicted the number of outstanding performances over the course of two days? Amazing! as for the Big 12, I don't necessarily agree that it's not very good over the past 37 years. There was a time that was true, but I think the Big 12 has been a quality league throughout the past decade. Bloomington reached the state title game three consecutive years, 2002-04, and Normal Community followed with back-to-back title game appearances, including one championship. Danville was a semifinalist two successive years and was a point away from making it three here in 2011. I think for teams in the Big 12 to be that competitive over a long period of time speaks highly of the caliber of players and coaches in the league. As for our immediate area, Tuscola is going to continue having a huge advantage by playing larger schools throughout the regular season and winding up in 1A come postseason time. I think we have other programs on the verge. Monticello, with Cully Welter getting everyone settled into his syem, will be a prominent player. I don't think there will be a dropoff at Unity. St. Thomas More is on the rise, but of course the multiplier will add to their challenges when the pairings are set because they'll be playing up a class. Mahomet-Seymour continues to get good numbers out every year. St. Joseph-Ogden is arguably one of the area's top programs when you consider the past quarter-century. My thinking is that there are any number of programs that are ready to breakthrough -- or in cases like Tuscola and Unity -- continue performing like they have in recent years..
going back to the question on the front page that led me in here...how do high school athletes view Illinois football from a desire standpoint? We've been disappointed in the recruiting efforts on campus each of our 3 visits (unofficial last season, Jr day in Feb, unofficial this season). As alums we're frustrated that the day/time recruits are in is very lackluster compared to other D1 schools we've visited. Can't decide if it's because this staff thinks everyone wants to go there so they don't need to do much or if they are just missing the boat all together.
Desire is a very hard thing to measure. What might be desirable to me would be go somewhere that I could step in as a freshman and make an impact immediately. What might be desirable to my neighbor might me to go to a program which is traditionally outstanding, but has so much talent it might be two or three years before I could get on the field. What might be desirable to someone else is the coaching staff ... or the location to home. There are just a ton of variables. It's no secret there have been problems at the UI and that could have a lot to do with the coaching changes taking place. Perhaps the new staff will have a different emphasis and take a different approach. Time will tell.
Fred Did you get the info I sent on Fletcher Evans
Hi Mike. I certainly did. Much appreciated. We'll have a profile on him in the paper later this week. He certainly appears to have a bright future. Thanks for the updates.
Fred,What kind of success do you think Urbana will have in Boys basketball this year?
Hi Tom. I'll have a better idea what to expect after I see them Friday against Normal Community. Certainly losing their top returning scorer from last year (Devin Carter) will make the prospects tougher, but I recall being impressed with P.J. Blissit when I saw him a year ago. I think Brandon Glass and Michael Franklin had significant playing time and I remember Michael Thompson as a good ballhandler in his younger years. The cupboard is not entirely bare. Now the question becomes how strong will the opposition be? At this point, I'm unsure how the Big 12 looks from top to bottom. These next few weeks will provide lots of answers.
Mike Thomas would be absolutely insane not to look at and immediately hire Mike Leach. Leach would bring an incredible national interest in Illinois that hasn't been seen... maybe ever, not to mention his offensive genius. If Leach was hired and he kept VC... I think the sky would be the limit. Please tell Mike Thomas is looking Leach's way? And the "baggage" argument doesn't hold water. Leach is a talent. Get him in CU Mike Thomas!!!
Hi Jeremy. It certainly seems logical to think Mike Leach would be somewhere prominent on the list of coaches to contact. The thing to remember is the interest has to be a two-way street. It's not just a matter of the Illini AD contacting someone. They have to express the desire to come here and, if reports are accurate that a new coach could be chosen by year's end, decisions have to be made sooner than later. I don't think there's just one coach out there who would be a good fit. There are several and it's the AD's job to sort through and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each and go from there. The popular choice is not always the best choice. I'm sure Mike Thomas will make a well-informed selection.
Fred,It looks like another year of losing Sports Teams at Urbana.Still climbing that hill.Future over all is not looking bright for many reasons.
Hi Tom. Losing seasons are something that don't look good on paper, but I'm a believer that progress is not always reflected in the outcome of an entire season. Take football this year. If the Central game were a few seconds shorter, Urbana would have wound up in the playoffs. The fact is that didn't happen, but it doesn't diminish the steps that have been made. Other sports may not have outstanding team records, but there are tremendous individuals within those programs. Look at Nicole Choquette in cross-country. She was right at the top of the list of Big 12 runners this season. Same with Cameron Mammen in wrestling. A returning state qualifier, I look for more big things from him. I guess I'm just a glass half-full kind of guy.
Time to wrap this up for another week. Great participation. Thanks to all for the questions. I enjoyed it.