Who's next to pop for Illini football? Illini Inquirer breaks down who's trending toward and away from Illinois in the latest edition of the Trending Meter.
I'm often asked, "Should I be worried about Illini football recruiting?"
My usual response: "Ask me after August."
Illinois has the fewest quantity of commitments (nine) in the Big Ten. Yes, Purdue actually has more commitments (12) -- though Illinois has better quality (3.00 star average ranking is 10th among Big Ten teams, and Purdue's 2.58 average star ranking is last.
Illinois joined the party late. Lovie Smith was hired in March and didn't have his assistants in place until late March. His recruiting staff is still being finalized. Simply, the Illini are still playing catch-up.
But August has and continues to be a big month as many of Illinois' top targets make decisions. Despite Micah Awodiran picking Yale, the Illini have landed three of those targets already this month.
Ideally, Illinois would end this month with 11-12 commitments, a solid foundation of a 25-man class, before the start of the season. The Illini could have more commitments right now if they wanted them -- the kind of commitments former coach Bill Cubit would have jumped on earlier this spring. But they want to be patient and pursue higher-ranked prospects on their big board.
If they win a few games early and create some excitement, expect the Illini to try to get some bigger fish on campus for official visits. If they struggle, expect them to start to focus on building a solid class in 2017 and reeling in the really big fish in 2018, which features a very strong in-state class.
The Class of 2017 never was going to be a true measure of what Lovie's staff were capable of in recruiting due to the staff's late start. Yet, it can still be a very good foundation class for the Lovie Era. The Illini just need to make some hay this month. So far, they've made some progress. But can they make more?
Check out the latest Illini Football TRENDING METER.
In the fold
Players who have committed to Illinois since last update
Off the board
Players who have committed elsewhere since last update
Another example -- along with commits Cam Thomas
, Tony Adams
and Marc Mondesir
-- of how the Illini are confident in their own evaluations. No other power-five program has offered Josh Newman
. Texas State is his only other offer and that came after Illinois' offer. But Illinois loved the raw speed and physicality they saw from Newman at their satellite camp in the Dallas area in June. Newman took a trip to Champaign this weekend to check out his top option -- "It's my number one now, really," he told Illini Inquirer
-- and is now at a crossroads in his recruitment. Does he want to end his recruitment and go B1G or does he want to wait it out and see if he can add more options during his senior season? Cedar Hill is loaded with talent, so he will have the chance to perform in front of a lot of coaches, but Illinois has laid great groundwork and at least has the chance to close this out in the next few weeks.
Miami (Fla.) Central defensive end Owen Carney
spent three days on the Illini campus last week, and the Illini have come out of the visit as a major player -- if not the leader -- for Carney. Illinois is near the top of his list because they have prioritized him, would take him as an early enrollee and offer him immediate playing time. Florida State offered, but the Seminoles just took another defensive end commitment. Miami offered but has told Carney his offer won't be there for long because they are looking at other DEs. Carney, who also is very interested in Duke, said he wants to wait until December to announce his decision. It might not be a bad thing for the Illini if he takes some time to think about it. "I think I can really come in right away (at Illinois) and make an impact," Carney told Illini Inquirer
. "I'm going to be a mid-year (enrollee), so I'm going to try to make a run for a starting job right away. And I feel like the scheme fits me. I can really be successful in their defense."
Illinois has prioritized Miami Central wideout Carmoni Green
since assistant Thad Ward
jumped on staff in March. That persistence has paid off. Green visited the Illini for a long weekend visit and subsequently released a top-five -- Illinois, Pitt, Oregon State, UCF and Utah -- and a decision date (Aug. 25). Of those schools, Green hasn't visited Utah nor Oregon State. He plans to visit Pitt soon, so this seems like an Illinois-Pitt battle. After the visit, the Illini seem to be in pole position. Let's see if they can keep that momentum through the month. "Illinois, that's just a great school overall," Green told Illini Inquirer
. "I like the playing style, and I like what they're trying to do." Green tweeted a picture of himself in an Illini hat this week.
With so few available, realistic defensive line targets, Illinois likely will need to find some sleeper defensive linemen in this class to get to their desired DL allotment in this class (four to five). The Illini were the first power-five to jump on board with an offer to California defensive tackle Boe Tufele
. With offers from the likes of Northern Colorado, North Carolina Central, Coastal Carolina and Dixie State, Tufele hasn't delved too much into recruiting yet. But he likely will take a visit to Illinois this fall. Given his options, it's no secret that Illinois is in a great spot to land a sleeper prospect they've identified. "I think that out of all the schools that have offered me, this (Illinois) would be my best choice," Tufele told Illini Inquirer
. "I think it’s the biggest one I got so far. If I were to chose, I would choose Illinois."
Given his talent, home state and position, Huntley (Ill.) defensive end Olalere Oladipo
may be the most important target on the Illini's board right now. Illinois has done a great job with him, and his trip to the Illinois barbecue last Thursday was his fourth trip to campus since Lovie Smith was hired. Oladipo spent a lot of one-on-one time with Lovie. A source said Illinois is the team to beat, but the Illini haven't wrapped up this recruitment yet. Oladipo took a visit to Penn State last month and has an offer from Michigan State. Oladipo seems intrigued by the Nittany Lions, but the Spartans already have three defensive end commitments. The Illini's biggest competition may be Indiana. The Hoosiers have made Oladipo a priority for a long time and have snagged a few Chicago-area recruits in recent years. But Illinois can sell Lovie and some strong educational programs (agriculture and engineering) for which Oladipo has interest. Oladipo, whose sister attends Illinois, plans to announce his decision either Friday, Aug. 19, or Friday, Aug. 26.
The previous Illinois staff had made Rich Central (Ill.) defensive tackle Caylon May
a priority, but the new staff took a while to take a liking to him. Luckily, May has stayed confusingly quiet in recruiting and hasn't received much interest. Despite his combination of size and athleticism and his pretty good film, May has no power-five offers. But he visited the Illinois campus last week, and the staff liked what it saw. They are turning up the interest for May -- they should turn it WAY up -- who would give the Illini a developing, but high-ceiling prospect at a huge position of need.
Warren Township wide receiver Jalin Tolbert
is often overshadowed by his teammate and top 2018 WR prospect Micah Jones
. But Tolbert is starting to make a name for himself. He ran a fast 40-time and had a good performance in one-on-one drills at the Illini satelllite camp at Barrington in June. Tolbert probably won't be a No. 1 wideout. He's not the biggest and not the most refined, but he has physical and athletic similarities to current Illini wideout Justin Hardee
. Tolbert simply can take the top off a defense. Illinois hasn't offered yet, but an offer could come as early as September if Tolbert puts together some quality film early during his senior season. "I feel like all I got to do is go out there and do what I've been working for this whole time," Tolbert told Illini Inquirer
. "It's basically like, it's right there and all I got to do is step over the finish line."
Silsbee (Texas) running back Calvin Tyler
visited the Illini last month and quickly received an offer. He isn't a workhorse back due to his lack of size, but he has phenomenal speed and would be a dangerous weapon to add to the arsenal. He has quick burst and change of direction and top-end speed. Tyler told Illini Inquirer
that Illinois and Cal -- his two power-five offers -- are his top two, and he plans official visits to both this fall.
Illinois has made Cincinnati offensive lineman Howard Watkins
a priority. He visited campus with his father and uncle in June. "Me, dad and my uncle sat in Coach Lovie Smith's office for an hour and hour and a half, not talking about football stuff but just about life," Watkins told Illini Inquirer
. "It was awesome with him possibly being my college coach. My dad and uncle really got a kick out of that." Watkins planned a return trip last week but could not make it. He did travel to Louisville recently though, and the Cardinals may now be the leader of the two-horse race. But Watins told Illini Inquirer he plans on taking an official visit to Illinois in September.
Illinois recently made the top-five for Alabama offensive tackle Preston Mixon
, along with Cincinnati, Nevada, Memphis and Florida Atlantic. As the only power-five program on that list, Illinois would seem to be in a great position. But Mixon made it clear that conference isn't one of the most significant factor in his decision. "Big Ten, SEC and all that stuff, that really doesn't matter," Mixon told Illini Inquirer
. "I just want to go somewhere and play and get my education. Basically, I want to play in the NFL. But as long as I do what I want to do at the next level, the NFL is going to come to me." Expect a fall visit.
The first recruit Lovie Smith
followed on Twitter this spring was DeCalon Brooks
, son of Smith's greatest pupils: Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks
. Decalon Brooks is a bit of a 'tweener. Some are recruiting him as a safety, while others are recruiting him as a linebacker. Regardless, he has speed, aggression, great blitzing ability and leadership. The Illini likely would bulk him up play him at weakside linebacker (his father's position). While Brooks holds an offer from Florida State, his father's alma mater, the Seminoles don't appear to be prioritizing him as much as Illinois. Expect Brooks to visit Illinois soon.
Illinois is the only offer for Miami Central running back Kywan Smith
. He visited the Illini campus for three days last weekend. Do the math and it seems to add up to an Illini commitment soon, right? If it were solely Smith's decision, he would've committed by now. But he first has some academic hurdles to jump over. He also isn't the No. 1 running back on the Illini's board. Of course, if two of his Miami Central teammates committed, the Illini would probably gladly take Smith too.
Crete-Monee defensive tackle John Mitchell
took in two Illini satellite camps last month on back-to-back days just to hang out and see the Illini staff. Mitchell said he currently doesn't plan any other visits this summer. The Illini staff would like to add Mitchell along the front line, where Illinois will likely add a handful of defensive line prospects. "I mean, they want me," Mitchell told Illini Inquirer last month
. "Just basically that they'd love to have me on campus and love to have me on the team. I think it's good. I think they're really on the come up. The new coaching staff, I think that's a big plus." Right now, the Illini are one of just two power-five offers along with Syracuse. But like his teammate Treadwell, Mitchell didn't attend the barbecue last week. He also has some academic hurdles to overcome.
Crete-Monee defensive back Juawan Treadwell has kept really quiet this summer -- probably too his detriment. Treadwell hasn't talked to reporters lately and hasn't taken any visits recently. He visited Illinois on the same April day that Ricky Smalling and Kendall Smith committed to Illinois.The Illini have invited him for several other visits, including last months' barbecue, but Treadwell hasn't made the effort to come back to campus. Illinois prioritized Treadwell early, but they won't hold a spot for him forever. Treadwell has a huge opportunity in front of him, but it's a bit of an exploding offer. Illinois recently received commitments from Antwan Collier and Tony Adams. There's only about one defensive back spot left in the class and other interested targets. Treadwell may be
Four-star athlete and former Kentucky commit Russ Yeast
attended the Illini barbecue on Thursday and stayed a few hours longer than expected. A source said "he didn't want to leave," but he eventually did and took a visit to Iowa over the weekend. Most were surprised Illinois made his final list of six, and they seemed to have done well on his visit. But another source said Yeast is most serious about Iowa, Ole Miss, Auburn and Louisville. This seems like a recruitment the Illini would have a better chance to win next year, possibly with some wins under their belt. Illinois has surprised that they've stayed in this recruitment this long. They'd shock everyone -- including me -- if they won it.
The Ohio defensive end did not include the Illini in his top-four: Cincinnati, Navy, Rutgers and West Virginia.
Illinois seemingly has pushed all their tight end target chips into the middle with Reese Leitao
, at least for the time being. The Illini really want the big, athletic son of DePaul basketball coach Dave Leitao
. The Ilini hope a desire to want to be close to his family, which is in the process of moving to Chicago, will give them a real chance. Illinois is in the mix. But given that he hasn't yet visited campus and has a host of other great options -- Penn State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Duke, Iowa and Maryland -- count me as skeptical. But an official visit would definitely turn this arrow. Leitao plans to decide early in the season.