Ryan Easterling

Friday Night Flashback: Week 1

Illini Inquirer football recruiting reporter Ryan Easterling provides the scouting report on the Illinois commits and targets seen in action this past weekend.

Friday: Glenbard West at Bolingbrook

First of all, I need to make a brief mention of one of the craziest finishes I've ever seen in a game in a long time.  In the JV game preceding the primetime matchup between varsity squads, the score was in the 44-40 Glenbard West when I arrived at Bolingbrook with about 4 minutes left on the clock.

Bolingbrook threw to the outside, the receiver broke a tackle or two, and took it the distance for the touchdown to take a 46-44 lead (the PAT was no good).  Over the next two minutes or so, Glenbard West put together a drive, with some help from a couple Bolingbrook penalties and scored with about 50 seconds left on the clock.  Back-breaker for Bolingbrook, right?

Well, in the words of Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend."

Glenbard West squib kicked the ball, which is pretty typical for a run-out-the-clock scenario, covered the kick, but for whatever reason, did not realize the ball was live.  A Bolingbrook player, catching Glenbard West asleep, grabbed the ball and took it the distance for the touchdown, leaving only about 30 seconds left on the clock.  Never have I seen a late game brain fart quite like that, especially from a program like Glenbard West.  Bolingbrook went on to win the JV match, but after that, it wasn't too exciting for Raider fans most of the night.

In the varsity matchup, the two teams were fairly square throughout the first quarter.  Two programs, known for their defense, often stalemated between the 30's, and a couple punting mishaps by both teams made things interesting, but never really cost either team.  But Glenbard West built a 10-0 halftime lead and eventually went on to win 17-7 after the Bolingbrook offense struggled to move the ball almost all night.

Bolingbrook's two star players, 2017 Illini WR/DB commit Kendall Smith and 2018 DB/WR I'Shawn Stewart never took a snap on defense or in the return game, and solely played offense.  To some extent I understand that given Glenbard West's run-based offense, but the duo will likely play DB in college, so it was a bit disappointing.

Kendall Smith

Ryan Easterling

Physically, Smith has the body type to develop into a solid corner at the next level.  He's built but lean, a hair over 6' tall, and showed good agility in space most of the night.  I didn't get a chance to judge his ability to react to the ball since he wasn't in a situation where he played defense, but his length is something that should help him fit in well in the Big Ten.

Smith doesn't have elite speed, but he's not slow by any means.  Glenbard West did a good job of jamming him at the line of scrimmage, which is something Smith will learn to do at the college level.  Again, I wish I could have seen him react, break on the ball, and tackle, but I understand Bolingbrook's personnel choices due to their opponent that night.

I'Shawn Stewart

Ryan Easterling

Stewart, much like Smith, is a future college corner who solely played on offense in this matchup.  He's a bit shorter than Smith, but also has good length and is very quick in making his cuts.  It's sometimes difficult to project offensive performances to defense, but Stewart's explosiveness and quick change of direction should help him at the next level.

He's overall a smooth athlete with a good frame and will be interesting to track throughout the rest of the year as he's able to play more on defense.

Saturday: East St. Louis at Providence Catholic

Living in the Chicago area, it's always an added bonus when East St. Louis comes up north to play against a strong Chicago-area team.  Last year, the Flyers took on Simeon before their season was cut short due to a teacher strike.

This year, though, the Flyers should get a full season to show what they can do.  And if Saturday's game against the Celtics of Providence Catholic in New Lenox, IL, was any indication, East Side is in for a good year.  

Providence didn't do themselves any favors in the first half with a couple of turnovers in their own territory, but East St. Louis kept the pedal to the metal from the start, including some big plays from elite 2017 receiver Jeff Thomas.

Jeff Thomas

ESL Flyers Football

Thomas, who had 4 catches for 118 yards and a TD in the first quarter and a half alone while battling cramps.  He finished the game with another catch for TD to eclipse the 150 yard mark, but even when double covered, Thomas would often dash right past the defenders using his 4.39 speed.

Thomas ranks among the most explosive receivers in the country in the 2017 class, and with speed and acceleration like his, teams only hope to contain him.  He's quick off of the line of scrimmage and uses excellent body control to juke defenders and create separation.  He not only has great burst off the line, but can maintain that top-end speed through the back end of his routes and burn defenders deep.

Terez Lagrone

Beth Long

Terez Lagrone played several positions along the defensive line for the Flyers, and was effective from just about all of them.  Whether he lined up on the interior or stood up as a defensive end, Lagrone was disruptive against an overwhelmed Providence offensive line.  He made a couple of tackles for loss, including a sack, and hit his opponents hard when he had the chance.

Lagrone held an offer from the previous Illinois staff, however, it is unclear at this time if his offer has been reaffirmed by the new Illini staff under Lovie Smith.

Sunday: Brother Rice vs. Marist

Soldier Field is such a cool place for a football game, but it had to be special for the players from Brother Rice and Marist, two Chicago Catholic League teams, who grew up watching the Bears play in the historic stadium.  But that's not the only storyline in this one.

The matchup pitted 2015 IHSA 8A state runner-up Marist and former Illinois target Micah Awodiran against 2017 Illinois commit Ricky Smalling and a Brother Rice team that could surprise a lot of people this year.

Ricky Smalling

Ryan Easterling

Now I've seen Smalling play a couple times in the past, and he hasn't had a disappointing performance yet.  Well, Sunday was no different. Again, Smalling asserted himself as the bigtime playmaker he is, propelling Brother Rice to a 31-7 win.

Do I think Smalling will be as productive this year as he was last year? Possibly not. He's a better receiver this year than he was last year, but his quarterback this year doesn't have the same arm strength as last year's starter.  So Smalling won't be the recipient of as many deep balls when he blows past the guy covering him.

Instead, he'll be the guy catching screen passes and proving that he can do damage in space.  If you've followed my coverage of Smalling over the last year and a half, you know that I'm a big fan of his game and think that he will be an immediate impact guy at the next level.

The thing is, he just plays with a certain mix of tenacity and swagger that a lot of skill receivers just don't have.  He's cocky, but not necessarily in a bad way. He knows what he can do, and he goes and does it.

And I'll continue to believe that his best days are still ahead of him. 

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