Saturday was a picture-perfect day for Ron Zook's 7 on 7 camp. A cool North wind kept the day pleasant and low in humidity, prerequisites for athletes who must play several football games in one afternoon.
There weren't as many teams at the camp this year compared to the recent past, but there were still some big-time programs in attendance. Maine South, Hinsdale South, Wheaton Warrenville South, Morris, St. Louis Vashon, Edwardsville, O'Fallon, Mundelein, Rolling Meadows, Algonquin Jacobs, Pekin, Quincy, Bloomington, Chicago Austin, Kankakee and Evansville Reitz were just some of the schools present.
There also weren't as many top-rated quarterbacks to follow as was true last year. Perhaps the best was tall, slender, strong-armed Brian Anderson of Louisville Male, who led his "Air Male" teammates to the large school championship by defeating Hazelwood East, Missouri, in Memorial Stadium to conclude the day. Male high school has long been known for its wide-open passing attack, making it a perennial favorite in 7 on 7 tournaments. And Anderson is developing into a quarterback who can be compared favorably with former Male stars Chris Redmon and Brian Brohm.
Illini coaches were conspicuous as they watched the games intently in their never-ending quest for talent. Among the better players in attendance were Kankakee linebacker Dustin Jefferson, Morris tight end/defensive end Jamie Cumbie, Hinsdale South speedster safety/receiver Matt Mayberry, tight end/defensive end Jerry Brown of St. Louis Vashon.
Cumbie has already committed to Clemson, his favorite school growing up in South Carolina, but he is a large person who has excellent agility and pass-receiving ability for a player so big. He has a chance to be a good tight end or defensive end in college, but this writer thinks Cumbie would be even better as an offensive lineman. Vashon's Jerry Brown is also tall and agile, but his frame is not quite as large as Cumbie's. Brown is considering Illinois as an equal option with Nebraska and Oklahoma plus some other schools at this time, and he looks like he is an excellent prospect.
Mayberry impressed with his speed, and his weight room work is showing as he is starting to pop out of his jersey. The feeling here is that, should Illinois decide to recruit him, he is a safety who may move to linebacker to take advantage of his speed. Jefferson is another undersized linebacker whose speed would allow him to compensate for a lack of size.
T. J. Owens was playing with a group of individuals who were not representing a particular school. He is not real tall, but he is fast and has quick feet and hips. His team looked to him for both his offense and defense. He looks to be a capable cover corner, but he also made some excellent catches and runs on offense.
As an Illini fan, this writer was most interested in an interchange overheard among some Vashon players. One of them turned excitedly to the others and said, "There's Juice!" The others strained their necks to see to whom he was referring. It was none other than Isiah "Juice" Williams, the quarterback and prospective Illini recruit who had arrived from Chicago prior to starting the quarterback camp that began Saturday evening.
It is true that Jerry Brown is from Vashon and is known to have spoken to Juice in the recent past. So it is possible he made some favorable comments about Juice to his teammates. But the degree of excitement and almost reverence shown toward Juice by players from St. Louis was uplifting to say the least. Perhaps Juice Williams' early commitment to the Illini will pave the way for other top players. At the least, it appears the Illini have a top quarterback prospect who has the respect of his peers around the country.
And if these eyes can be trusted with an evaluation, Williams' play in the quarterback camp showed outstanding potential. He is fast and strong. He learns quickly and has a definite charisma. And he throws over the top with super velocity. Juice also seems to be accurate with a wide variety of throws.
It is far too early to assess how soon he might help the Illini. After all, he is just starting his senior year at Vocational high school. And he did not have to respond to complex defenses during the camp, so it remains to be seen how well he can do in college. But there are certainly a large number of people who are excited that Isiah Williams has made an early commitment to the Illini.
There was also a lineman camp on Saturday, and nearly 300 offensive and defensive linemen attended. Illini coaches Ed Warriner and Tom Sims got up close and personal with several potential prospects. We will have to wait for awhile to see how many of these linemen will be offered scholarships, but camps like these give the coaches a chance to evaluate players. The linemen were given special Ron Zook Lineman Camp jerseys that prevented onlookers from knowing the names or schools of the prospects, so no attempt will be made to describe the qualities of the top linemen at this time.
A number of Illini football players were on hand as well. One of the incoming freshmen, flex tight end William Davis from Maryland, was overheard saying that he was told to prepare to play this year. He is a highly impressive physical specimen who looks like he can help. A couple of other Illini were heard bragging about incoming wide receiver Derrick McPhearson. He is another player who can add much to our team this year if he remains healthy and learns the offense quickly.
It appears Ron Zook may prefer one-day evaluation camps over the longer camps, so it remains to be seen how the camp situation will look next year. But Zook was quoted as saying he was impressed with the 7 on 7 camp, so it is hoped this format can be continued. It is a fun and busy day for athletes and onlookers alike, one that football fans cannot help but enjoy.
For IlliniBoard.com Premium Members, Illinisports has provided a photo gallery of some of the weekend activities.
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