Judgments will be all over the board when Illini football recruiting — the lifeblood of the program — is finalized early next month.
On one hand, the Illini won’t be ranked among the nation’s Top 30. On the other hand, they’re in a tight, multi-team battle for fourth in the Big Ten behind Scout.com’s 1-2 national leaders, Michigan and Ohio State, and a third school, Nebraska.
My thoughts are all about location, location, location. Admitting an addiction to this subject, my feeling is that, while Illinois can fill holes by recruiting in other states, this program will never consistently challenge Big Ten leaders unless it entices the top talent from Chicagoland.
Bringing in 11 Ohioans in two years is helpful but, even when you strike gold with Mason Monheim, that doesn’t mean the “seconds” in Ohio — those that Ohio State and Michigan can’t take — are superior to the firsts in Illinois.
How can you be successful in college football if you are not attractive to athletes in your own state?
Athletic director Mike Thomas acknowledges this with his actions: his master plan, his billboards and the Illini office up there. Just imagine all money and talent bubbling up among 10 million people and hundreds of high schools in a metropolitan area that stretches from northwest Indiana through Joliet and up through the northern suburbs.
At this juncture — one year after the UI took just three preps from the entire state — Tim Beckman’s program appears to have two firm football commitments from this vast metro area.
Highly athletic QB Aaron Bailey, a star at Bolingbrook since his freshman year, has confirmed he will sign. Crete-Monee defensive back Jaylen Dunlap, who had no other Big Ten offers, reportedly gave his word this past weekend.
Meanwhile, Chicago Simeon’s Reggie Spearman, the only linebacker on the UI list, is still considering Iowa. And Lincoln-Way Central defensive end Evan Panfil committed but has lately expressed an interest in Purdue. You can’t count those two, not with them wavering.
That leaves Dunlap and the 220-pound Bailey, whose athleticism is four-star level but who has yet to prove himself as a polished passer.
With Beckman desperate for receivers, the state’s top-rated player, Laquon Treadwell of Crete-Monee, chose Ole Miss. Flashy Joliet ball carrier Ty Isaac is headed for Southern Cal. Ethan Pocic, brother of Illini senior Graham Pocic, picked LSU. Lincoln-Way West tackle Colin McGovern chose Notre Dame. Wheaton tackle Kyle Bosch will attend Michigan. These are leaders among two dozen top Chicagoland players rated by Edgy Tim, whose evaluations are generally confirmed by Rivals, Scout and ESPN.
Furthermore, two highly rated huskies from Peoria are leaving the state. Josh Augusta announced this past weekend for Missouri, and Logan Tuley-Tillman (6-7, 305) is, like Bosch (6-5, 311), already enrolled at Michigan.
My point is the same as it has always been. The UI needs a playground it can count on for recruiting, and it has to be Chicagoland. If not, don’t look for consistency.
Beckman has done his best to compensate. At this juncture, with five preps and five jucos already enrolled, the Illini intend to sign 15 or more on Feb. 6. A recent addition is Floridian James Crawford, unranked by Scout and a two-star by Rivals.
Crawford and Dunlap step in after two quality DBs, Ohioan Reon Dawson and Michigander Joshua Jones, decommitted. Dawson switched to Michigan even though the Wolverines already have a quartet of four-star DBs on the way, two of whom (Ohioans Ross Douglas and Dymonte Thomas) are enrolled.
Jones is considering several schools (Pitt?) after having a bangup senior season — maybe too good as far as Beckman is concerned — at Walled Lake Western.
The signing date is two weeks off. Look for more changes between now and then, with academics possibly coming into play. And don’t look for the Illini to get much help from Chicagoland.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.