As a critic viewing the Big Ten from on high — exaggeration is allowed — it appears that Ohio State has its choice of the first 25 football recruits. Then the quartet of Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin share the next 100. After that, Penn State is seen as returning as an attractive option, and everybody else takes the remaining scraps.
Near the bottom with Purdue are Tim Beckman’s Illini. According to every recruiting service, they’re somewhere around 65 or 70.
Scout.com has information showing only one of 13 UI prep signees, Mount Carmel running back Matt Domer, had another Big Ten offer (from Indiana).
That’s what I was going to write before I decided not to. Because it doesn’t tell the whole story. Alex Golesh, Illini recruiting coordinator, straightened me out and put a new light on the subject. And, to be honest, I’ve come to take his word over the services, particularly after he insisted how good an underrated UI tackle, Austin Schmidt, was going to be last fall (and he was).
OK, Alex, who are the Schmidts of this class?
“I’d say Henry McGrew (linebacker from Kansas) or Mike Dudek (Neuqua Valley receiver). They weren’t as highly recruited. They committed early, so there wasn’t an influx of offers,” Golesh said. “Another like that is Tito Odenigbo (lineman from Centerville, Ohio). He was our first commitment in February. He had an unbelievable senior year, and others tried to sway him. He would have had other offers.”
The services never seem to fully calculate senior performances into their ratings. They act as though Julian Hylton didn’t run for 2,522 yards and 32 touchdowns, a fact that has influenced Beckman to give the Lincoln-Way North burner a shot at running back (he’s listed as a DB).
“People get infatuated with stars and offers,” Golesh said. “If Austin Roberts and Chayce Crouch had wanted to sell themselves and publicize offers, that would have put them back in the spotlight and increased their ratings.
“Roberts played just 21/2 games (for Rice Lake, Wis.) before hurting his knee. He is ahead of schedule and will be full-go when he gets here in June.”
Boost for special teams
Three prep linebackers will fill a critical need for UI kick return and coverage teams.
“McGrew and Roberts are really good players,” Golesh said. “McGrew had offers from Kansas and Iowa State, both within two hours of his house. He’s 6-3 and 225, and anybody who watched film could see how he could run. He was the leader of a team that won a state title. We felt he was a really big get for us.
“Roberts had an unbelievable camp at Barrington, came here the following Tuesday and committed. He was supposed to go to a Wisconsin camp on Friday and didn’t go.
“Chayce Crouch (6-4, 220, QB from Granville, Ohio) is similar to those linebackers. If Crouch had stayed open, based on his senior season (1,996 yards passing and 527 rushing), I think he’d have as many offers as any quarterback in the country. When they commit to us, we don’t expect them to publicize other offers.”
If juco defensive tackle Jihad Ward, a former receiver now up to 305 pounds, is the one for whom the most is expected, Golesh confirmed my belief that Springfield’s Malik Turner is the most underrated newcomer.
“When Turner gets here, ask him about the offers he got after committing to us,” Golesh said. “You’ll be shocked. He’s going to be a special player. I wish we had him early, but right now he’s the heartbeat of Griffin’s basketball team. He knew where he wanted to be, and we were confident all along he’d stay with us. He’ll arrive here in great shape because he’s coming off basketball.”
Still, it must be reported that (1) it’s hard to be optimistic about a 13-member prep class featuring just five in-staters and (2) immediate help, which is crucial for these coaches to keep their jobs, could be dependent on receivers and defensive linemen plucked from the juco ranks.
Warning! Junior college recruiting can break either way. Last year Beckman brought in five juco transfers, but only one, Zane Petty, made a major impact with 15 tackles against Ohio State and seven starts in the secondary. Receiver Martize Barr showed promise but had just six catches in the last six games, missing the finale for personal reasons. Highly touted lineman Abe Cajuste played briefly in five games.
Truth be told, the weak UI link — which was the defense — has 19 of 22 players returning. What Beckman needs more than new talent is for those 19 returnees to improve. As for offense, the guess here is that the receiving corps is sufficiently talented for Bill Cubit to find what he needs.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.