Going for Illinois
Illinois has almost perfectly played its pursuit of Owen Carney. The Illini staff has made the Miami Central three-star defensive end -- who will enroll for the spring semester at the school of his choice -- a top priority since Lovie Smith's arrival in March.
The Illini got him on campus early with a three-day late-July unofficial visit with teammate and Illini commit (and likely early enrollee) Carmoni Green. Meanwhile, the schools that had Carney's early affection treated him like a back-up plan. First, Miami filled up its defensive end spots. Then Florida State "offered" during the summer, but the Seminoles made it clear they didn't yet have a spot for him -- and definitely didn't have an early enrollee spot.
All the while, the Illini kept pushing hard -- and then harder.
“It’s definitely in my mind and not the back of my mind either," Carney told Illini Inquirer in November. "As far as the more top-ranked programs, I just look at them as fits and how I fit there. With Illinois, you get what I just said, the loyalty and the feeling that you’re going to be taken care of.”
Other schools showed fleeting interest, including Duke and Tennessee. Recently, Maryland has made a big push and got him on campus for an official visit. But Illinois got him on campus again this month for his final official visit -- the closest to the dead period.
“I’m very high on Illinois’ staff," Carney said in November. "They treat me like family. If I call one coach, I’m going to end up talking to the whole staff. That’s just the way they are. No other program has treated me like that.”
Illinois also has immediate playing time to sell Carney, a big-bodied, athletic edge rusher. While he probably dreamed of playing at Florida State and Miami, Carney seems to be sold on Lovie Smith and his loyalty to him throughout the recruiting process.
Going against Illinois
Carney has had plenty of chances to commit to Illinois earlier, but he hasn't. He's talked to other schools, including Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas, to gauge their interest, so Illinois may have seemed like a back-up plan at times. Honestly, I'm stretching for negatives here.
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest: 9.5 -- Illinois has recruited Carney better and harder than any other program. Expect the hard work to pay off with a Christmas present that was near the top of their wish list.
Carney fills a huge need at defensive end. Illinois loses two potential high draft picks at the position (Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips) and a player who would've started on many recent Illini teams (Gimel President). The Illini have so much inexperience and questions at the position (Sean Adesanya, Henry McGrew and Brandon Jones are the only returning scholarship ends on the roster), that a defensive tackle (Tito Odenigbo or Tymir Oliver) should probably be moved to the edge.
Illinois already has a commitment from Olalere Oladipo but likely will add at least three more defensive ends in this class with the hope that some will play roles in 2017.
Since Carney is an early enrollee, he will receive a lot of reps in spring ball and likely will crack the two-deep for the Illini next season -- though expectations should be held in check. Carney has plus speed, athleticism and motor. He has the physical tools and plays with physicality. He also played inside at times in high school, so like Oladipo, he offers some versatility. But he will need to add strength to help disengage blockers, improve his burst off the ball and hone his pass-rush moves. Carney is a no-doubt Big Ten talent -- something Illinois needs more of in the trenches.
Carney also would be the third Floridian in this class, joining Green and St. Thomas Aquinas running back Mike Epstein. Illinois running backs coach Thad Ward has done a great job in the Miami area, and Lovie Smith has opened even more doors in the Sunshine State. Andrew Hayes-Stoker also recruits the area.null