With more well-known names -- like Hugh Davis and Dorion Pollard -- part of the linebacker group, St. Rita linebacker Marc Mondesir found a way to stand out and make a name for himself Friday night. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound rising senior ran a 40-yard dash in the 4.5-4.6 second range and showed athleticism and instincts in positional drills. Illini coach Lovie Smith pulled him aside during the camp and Mondesir chatted with Illini defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson and linebackers coach Tim McGarigle after the camp concluded. Mondesir opened the eyes of the Illini coaches, who liked his speed, range and length.
Iowa commit Juan Harris may have been the biggest surprise attendee on Friday night. What does it mean? We're not sure as Harris didn't want to speak to reporters on Friday night. Regardless, Harris -- all 6-foot-3, 360 pounds of him -- stood out. Obviously, he is a monster of a man, but he also moves all that girth pretty well. With his power and solid quickness, Harris could play nose tackle or offensive guard. He took a bit of time after camp to talk to Illini coaches.
If there was a star of the camp, it was 2018 Mt. Carmel lineman Verdis Brown. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound offensive lineman was by far the best looking prospect on the field. Not only does he have size, but he ran a 5.0-5.1 second 40-yard dash and moves extremely well. He looks and moves a lot like former Illini defensive lineman Jihad Ward, so it's not a huge surprise that Lovie asked his assistants to work out Brown as a defensive lineman. He's raw there, but Brown looks like a future four-star recruit. The Illini, who were the first to extend Brown an offer, would like for Brown to stay at home this summer because he should probably receive an offer from most programs who sees him. It's only a matter of time before he blows up, but the Illini have set a nice foundation early.
Mt. Carmel is pretty loaded with young talent, and Brown's teammate Terrance Taylor also stood out due to a great mix of size and speed. Taylor, a 2018 prospect, worked out mostly at linebacker and leveled a running back during one-on-one drills. But he likely projects as a pass rusher if he can fill out his frame. Taylor has a Central Michigan offer, but he had four Illini staffers surrounding him after camp ended. Expect the Illini interest to pick up.
The state of Illinois is pretty thin at running back in 2017 with Iowa commit Ivory Kelly-Martin as the only no-doubt Big Ten prospect. The 2018 class doesn't yet look deep either, but Homewood-Flossmoor tailback Justin Hall certainly looks the part of a power-five player. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound back has great speed, athleticism and quickness but also has a pretty strong frame. Iowa State and Central Michigan have offered so far. With so few in-state running backs, the Illini should probably hop on board sometime soon.
Four more to watch
Homewood-Flossmoor 2017 wideout Tyrice Ritchie -- former teammates with Illini QB commit Cam Thomas -- has a nice blend of size, speed and athleticism. He's rising a bit among state wideouts and currently has offers from NIU and Miami (Ohio).
Bolingbrook 2018 cornerback I'Shawn Stewart is skinny but battled well with some of the camps best wideouts. The Illini coaches took notice.
With Verdis Brown working out with the defensive linemen, Urban Prep 2017 guard Johari Branch stood out among the offensive linemen and even held his own in a one-on-one drill against Juan Harris. He has the physical tools (strength and decent feet), so he's worth monitoring.
Illini tight ends coach Bob Ligashesky spent a lot of time talking with Scott Cooper, who has a big frame and moves well. Several Big Ten and MAC programs have shown interest.