What Now?

Mar 26, 2018

So Illinois Football - yes, the football program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign - has landed a five-star quarterback and a top-100 (top-60) WR/CB. What are we supposed to do with that information? And what happens next?

Let's begin with a question from the comments on the last post:

Robert, what is going on here? Need help comprehending this.

I would have thought aliens landing on Earth was far more likely than Ills landing 5 Star QBs. Please help. My brain is hurting.

Well, for me, this seems to be as simple as "just when I gave up on the name 'Lovie Smith' being the only thing necessary to bring in this type of recruiting class and moved on to accepting a more prototypical rebuild, it appears that the name 'Lovie Smith' has brought in (the beginnings of) that type of recruiting class". Some might suggest it was the hiring of Cory Patterson, Isaiah Williams' high school coach, but we need to remember that it was Marquez Beason who started this off. His verbal (and his high school teammates Calvin Avery and Kievan Myers last year) was pretty much just Andrew Hayes-Stoker walking into that high school and selling the (Texas) name of Lovie Smith.

So I think we need to start there. What's going on here? Well, the first step was those three players from Bishop Dunne in Dallas being sold on Lovie Smith's vision. Beason was the first top-100 recruit of the decade, and that is always going to turn some heads.

The second step, obviously, is hiring Cory Patterson, a move I questioned at the time. "Questioned" isn't strong enough. A move I was completely against at the time. I didn't want to build that way. I wanted to hire an experienced recruiter. If we're going to develop a relationship with a high school coach, do it while he's still coaching there so that he can feed us players for 10 years.

With one verbal from the big fish, my objections seem silly. I never in a million years thought Patterson would be able to pull Williams away from Alabama/Ohio State/Oklahoma. I figured we might get some of the lower-ranked Trinity kids, but landing Williams seemed out of the question. It wasn't.

So now what? We're only three recruits in and standing on the edge of our best recruiting class since 2008, so where do we go from here? Logic says to expect average Illinois recruits from here on out, but a 5-star and a top-100 kid in the first three players says "maybe we need to open ourselves up to the chance that this class could be special?"

After Beason committed, someone on the Deuce posted "gun to your head, where do you think this class ends up ranked?" and my answer was "42". I didn't think there was any chance that Williams would pick Illinois, and let's be honest - a 3-9 season might lead some of these kids to seriously reconsider. It happened after 2009 - the 2010 class had four-stars Corey Cooper and CJ Fiedorowicz, plus future all-conference players like Andy Gallik (at Boston College). They all decommitted after our 3-9 season in 2009, so we have to at least keep that in the back of our heads. Things change.

But with Beason AND Williams now on board, I also need to consider that this could go the other way. Say Lovie were to land Shammond Cooper (4-star linebacker at Trinity) and Jason Bargy (4-star defensive linemen from Momence HS). With each one of those, any end-of-the-season decommitments become less and less likely. The more these kids become "we're going to change Illinois football", the less likely a Corey Cooper or CJ Fiedorowicz situation.

And the names are out there. If you just search the class hashtag (#IllGang19), you'll find all kinds of kids at least Twitter-interested. Names like:

  • Cooper (4-star)
  • Bargy (4-star)
  • Jaquaze Sorrells, Bobby Roundtree's high school teammate in Largo, Florida. (4-star, top-100)
  • Marcus Washington, wide receiver from Trinity Catholic (4-star, top-100)
  • Erick Young, cornerback from Texas who Beason is actively recruiting on Twitter (4-star, top-100)
  • Jirehl Brock, running back from Quincy (4-star)
  • Jahleel Billingsley, tight end from Chicago Phillips (4-star)

Those are just the four-star names. Keep in mind that we landed two four-stars in 2015 (Megginson and Vaughn - both transferred), we landed zero four-stars in 2016, zero four-stars in 2017 (Smalling just missed), and two four-stars in 2018 (Calvin Avery and Verdis Brown). So to already have two on board and a legitimate list of interested four-stars... that's fairly amazing.

Which means there's now an interesting choice to make. Lovie has some recruiting buzz right now, but how far will it carry? Are these kids really interested or just enjoying the fanfare around Beason and Williams and #IllGang19? And most importantly, how much should he slow-play?

Because that's what this comes down to. This class will have somewhere between 12 and 22 recruits. 12 because that's the number of open scholarships currently, 22 because that's the cap on this class after accepting three blueshirts (players that join the team this fall but "count" towards the next class). There will be some attrition (players graduate as redshirt juniors, transfer, etc.), but I'm not sure you're going to see 10 players leave (the majority of Beckman/Cubit players making that decision left after last season). So with a smaller class, how much do you slow-play?

If you think you can get Bargy, do you slow play the Plan B and Plan C defensive ends on your list? And if you don't get Bargy and Plan B and Plan C have gone elsewhere, are you then stuck with adding Plan D in January? Wouldn't it have been better to add Plan B back in the summer?

Those are the recruiting decisions ahead. There's serious buzz. There's a 5-star and a 4-star on board and legitimate interest from others. Do you see if you can ride that giant wave all the way to shore or do you wait for a smaller, safer wave? 4-star-or-bust or take the mid-3-star right now?

Interesting decisions ahead. Glad I don't have to make them. Hopefully I'll just sit back and contemplate if I need to build a new category of six Tom Cruises.


DB50 on March 26 @ 03:09 PM CDT

This recruitment was all about building relationships. It started back in June 2016 when Lovie Smith & coaches held 8 satellite camps in 4 states(Chicago area, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale & at Trinity Catholic in St. Louis). The talent in these area got to know Lovie & company. From there, it was all about nurturing this connection & planting the seed that they could earn early playing time & be part of the reason Illinois Football could become a force in the BIG. Are there challenges ahead, absolutely. However, the NFL pedigree this staff can tout along with the chance of early playing time & to become part of stunning turnaround for a once proud program can be very enticing. All it takes is one key domino to start a chain reaction.

John Case on March 26 @ 03:23 PM CDT

Brock doesn't look that great on tape. I wonder if he plays RB in college. Doesn't have separation speed. Trevor Keegan has really nice tape, worth of a number 1 state ranking. The kid thats ranked WAAAY too low I would love to see Illinois lock down is Joachem Price. Thats a top 5 player in state IMO. Nubin is exactly what Lovie looks for in a DB. Bargy looks good. But on tape, Keith Randolph is a once every 5 years DE out of the state of Illinois. Watch his tape. Boxing equivalent of a knock out puncher.

ATOillini on March 26 @ 06:14 PM CDT

The funny thing is how fast Memorial Stadium would fill up given the right circumstances. Every time I see some disparaging remark about why would anyone ever want to play there I simply laugh. Those of us who've been around know.

Frankly this feels as if it has a chance of being somewhat like the momentum that built with Zook early on (Benn, Wilson, etc.). We became competitive rather quickly. And from the moment Benn returned that kickoff vs. PSU.......

1970 John on March 27 @ 09:19 AM CDT

I wonder how much cross-buzz there is between football and basketball, not that a player in one sport will commit because of what's going on it another, but rather Illinois in general is #littyville rather than #loserville. 'Cause like, we're the cool kids now.

What's it going to be like when the New Chief arrives? Do you love me, now that I can dance? https://youtu.be/azKPeIWdE6I

HiggsBoson on March 30 @ 10:11 PM CDT

The next key is not to go 2-10 or 3-9 again in the fall. If that happens, look for decommits.

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