The Crusaders put up yet another impressive performance Friday night, scoring 35 points in the first quarter alone. And while star WR Ricky Smalling made a couple of good plays, he didn't have his normal multi-touchdown game, especially while battling severe cramps.
The good news for Rice is that two of their other seniors made big plays. But, if I'm being honest, last night it was all about senior RB Xavian Valladay.
I saw Valladay a few times in the past in some relief play. But he's been impressive so far this season, especially against Crete-Monee.
With Smalling dealing with cramping, Valladay answered the call in a huge way, breaking several long runs and making defenders miss in space. Valladay's 278 yards and five touchdowns were the fuel that propelled Rice to the win over a tough opponent.
He's a compact but speedy back who knows how to make a strong cut and uses burst to finish his runs. He showed enough top end speed to maintain separation between he and Crete-Monee standout Juawan Treadwell more than once (though Treadwell nearly caught him.. more on Treadwell in a bit).
I'm not sure what sort of attention Valladay is getting from a recruiting standpoint, but performances like Friday's should at least put him on the radar.
I'll keep this portion on Smalling short this week for two reasons: 1) Smalling was limited due to cramps, so he didn't play as many snaps, and 2) I already went in detail about his abilities last week (make sure you check that out).
But I did want to mention him, because he made an impressive, acrobatic catch midway through the 2nd quarter (video coming soon). He did have one of his toughest matchups of the year against Treadwell all night, but he should bounce back well next week.
I will give Crete-Monee credit in this one. They gave Rice a fight. But a few special teams errors and bad snaps resulted in turnovers, and cost them at critical points in the game.
But, a few of their players stood out, including a pair who hold Illinois offers.
Treadwell (pictured at top) didn't have an easy task in this game as he lined up across from Ricky Smalling most of the night. But for the most part, I thought he did a really good job in disrupting Smalling's routes.
Treadwell played mostly in bump and press coverage and stuck with Smalling well, challenging him especially on deep routes. He has great speed, length, and athleticism. I'd like to see him play with a little more tenacity, but I do think he's a bit underrated as a corner.
I do want to start off by saying that I don't see Valladay's big night as a reflection of Mitchell's performance, because Mitchell was often making plays in the backfield and stuffing running lanes.
Mitchell is quick getting off the ball. He's a legitimate 6'3" tall and 300 pounds, so size isn't an issue, though it would be nice if he had slightly longer arms. His power is one of his biggest assets, but on the flip side, he could likely use some work on his technique. When he has his motor going, he's a force on the defensive line. He just needs to be sure to bring it on every play.
One of the less talked-about guys on the field on Friday night who deserves a lot more attention is Crete-Monee junior quarterback Isaiah Rucker. Rucker was really the man for Crete-Monee in the first half, throwing for over 320 yards in the first half alone.
He likely approached the 500 yard mark for the game in an extremely impressive performance from a relatively unknown guy. Rucker isn't a big time runner, but he can move the pocket with his feet and runs the bootleg well.
Quite possibly his best asset is his ability to deliver an accurate and well-thrown football while on the move. He showed that time and time again on Friday night, maintaining a tight spiral and placing the football where only his man could make a play.
Rucker doesn't have the same name recognition and attention as fellow junior QB Quincy Patterson of Solorio, yet. But he deserves to be talked about and deserves to be on college radars.
He has a huge arm and was able to stretch the field with it throughout the game, often finding his favorite target in senior "everything man" Kevin Pate.
Senior WR/RB Kevin Pate did a little bit of everything on Friday night for Crete-Monee as he reached the endzone five different times. Sometimes, he was on the receiving end of Rucker's passes, including an 80 yard TD bomb during the first quarter. Other times, he lined up in the wildcat and ran behind a heavy set to combat the aggressive Brother Rice defense.
Either way, Pate just showed that he knows how to make plays. His versatility, speed, and competitiveness were evident against the Crusaders. He has the ability to stretch the field with his speed as well as take on defenders one on one and be physical as a ball carrier.
Pate may not be getting the same attention on the recruiting trail as some other top prospects in the state, but his film this year should garner the interest of a few schools before all is said and done.