Ryan Easterling - Scout.com

Friday Night Flashback: Week 3

Friday’s action featured an Illini quarterback commit as well as several of his former teammates. Check out who Illini Inquirer had eyes on this past Friday night in this week’s Friday Night Flashback.

Marian Catholic at St. Viator

It’s been a tough go for future Illini Cam Thomas the last couple of years at Marian Catholic.  In 2015, the Spartans finished just 1-8 after facing a murderer’s row of Chicago Catholic League opponents.  And it definitely didn’t help that this past offseason, his top pass-catcher transferred to powerhouse Homewood-Flossmoor.

Still, Thomas makes the best of his situation.  The speedy 6’3” quarterback has seen numerous teammates leave for nearby H-F over the last couple of seasons, so he’s kind of used to it by now.

In week 3 action, Thomas and his Marian Catholic team had an opportunity against St. Viator, who also finished 1-8 last season, to get their second win of the season in just three games.  St. Viator was also without Notre Dame TE pledge Cole Kmet, who was still recovering from illness, so the opportunity was there.

At first, both teams struggled to move the ball, playing much of the first quarter between the 30 yard lines.  However things started to loosen up in the second, with Marian Catholic striking first on a couple big plays by Thomas.  

St. Viator would score the next two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead, doing most of their damage with the ground game as Marian Catholic’s defensive front began to wear down.

But Thomas would even the score on an 80-yard TD option keeper in which he blew past defenders with his 4.5 speed.  Thomas didn’t get many running lanes early, and did make some incorrect reads, but he found the gap on that one and didn’t give the defense any prayer of catching him.

Unfortunately for Thomas, poor coverage on the ensuing kickoff by Marian Catholic put the Lions of St. Viator right back on top when they returned the kickoff to the house for 6.  

After that, the Lions never looked back.  Thomas and Marian would eventually drive deep into St. Viator territory, but facing a lot of pressure in his face (sometimes unblocked), Thomas made an ill-advised throw near the red zone, which was picked off and taken back near mid-field.

St. Viator would score once more to take a 28-14 lead, which ended up being the final score.  

It’s difficult to judge Thomas without any real weapons around him.  His receivers often let up at the end of their routes instead of running all of the way through, and many times it cost them what would have been huge plays.  

Just to put it in perspective, Homewood-Flossmoor 2018 RB Justin Hall started his career at Marian Catholic.  2017 H-F WR and NIU commit Tyrice Richie was at Marian Catholic just last year and would have provided Thomas with a legitimate pass-catching threat.  Thomas told me after the game that in the neighborhood of 13 players had left Marian to go to Homewood-Flossmoor over the last 2-3 years.  Oh what could have been.

But Thomas didn’t offer up any excuses.  Thomas has decent arm strength at this point in his career, but his biggest weapon is his feet.  He’s a much faster straight-line runner than he is when moving laterally.  He’s no Lamar Jackson, but if he gets past you, he has the speed to bite off a big chunk of yardage with his feet.

When he has time, he does a good job of stepping into his throws and delivering a ball with good touch.  He won’t throw a rocket, but has good range and good timing.  He will need to add weight at the college level, but not so much that it will cost him his speed.  He’s a heady quarterback who provides much-needed leadership to his team in lieu of their struggles.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that he does all of this while also starting at cornerback.  Personally, I think Thomas is 2-3 years off from being comfortable as a starting college quarterback, but if Illinois isn’t able to add some depth by other means at the quarterback position this offseason, then Thomas may not have the luxury of a redshirt year.  Though, for his sake, it would be beneficial for him to spend that year learning the playbook and not being thrust into action unprepared like Juice Williams once was.

- Ryan Easterling

Homewood-Flossmoor at Lincoln-Way East

One of Saturday's great high school matchups -- besides Loyola edging out Chicago Mt. Carmel -- was Homewood-Flossmoor at Lincoln-Way East. And the battle of top-10 teams certainly lived up to the billing with Homewood-Flossmoor pulling off a thrilling 35-30 road win.

H-F was expected to take a slight step back after losing key playmakers Deante and Devonte Harley-Hampton. But the Vikings have reloaded. 

The best player on the field Saturday was receiver Tyrice Richie, who hauled in 10 catches for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Richie committed to Northern Illinois earlier in the week and the Huskies got a steal. Ritchie has good length (6-1). He's a physical competitor who attacks the ball in the air and has the speed to make plays in space and get behind good high school defenses. He may not have the elite traits Big Ten schools are looking for, but NIU should be pumped about nabbing Richie.

A transfer has stepped into the spotlight for H-F as well. Stagg transfer Herbert Hughes showed big-play potential with 10 carries for 168 yards and a touchdown. Hughes, a 6-foot, 195-pound back caught our eye during a first-half run where he ran up the middle and evaded a defender with a quick jump cut and bounced to the outside, sped by a few defenders before getting pushed out of bounds dozens of yards down the field. Hughes then showed his breakaway ability on a 73-yard touchdown run. Hughes runs a bit high,which makes him easier to tackle. BUt his combination of size and speed should make him an intriguing prospect for some FCS and lower-level FBS schools.

2018 three-star prospect Justin Hall played mostly defense. He lines up at safety and basically makes sure nothing gets behind him. Hall showed quickness and physicality in that role but he's a bit short to play safety at the next level. Illinois is recruiting him (they haven't offered yet) as a running back. Hall rotated in as an offensive weapon, usually as an in-motion wide receiver or wildcat quarterback. H-F obviously trusts him, giving Hall the ball on three fourth downs -- he converted all of them.

Hall is well-respected at H-F. One H-F staffer said Hall may be the best athlete to come through H-F in a while, which says something given the talent that has come out of there. Central Michigan has offered and is out in front right now. Illinois likes Hall but they may want a bigger back.

The top Illini target in the game, of course, was Lincoln-Way East defensive end Devin O'Rourke. The 2018 defensive end certainly sticks out among the crowd. He's 6-foot-6 with long arms and a good frame. O'Rourke needs to continue to add strength but that should come in due time. He doesn't have a great array of pass rush moves yet, but that also will come in due time.

O'Rourke had a good test against a pair of Homewood-Flossmoor offensive linemen who are going to the MAC, and while he didn't dominate the action, his presence was felt throughout the game. He laid a big hit on the H-F quarterback on one of his touchdown passes. He also had a JaDeveon Clowney-like play, ripping through a defender, crushing the ball carrier, forcing a fumble and picking up the fumble -- seemingly in one feel swoop. O'Rourke bends and moves well (though he doesn't have elite athleticism) and is physical but needs to add strength

But those flashes and those frame make him a quality four-star prospect.  In my opinion, he projects best as a 3-4 defensive end -- which is what makes that Wisconsin offer so interesting.

- Jeremy Werner

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