Star Athletes Visit Champaign

A warm sunny day greeted high school football players as they descended upon the University of Illinois campus to participate in the Ron Zook 7 on 7 Camp Saturday. There were some outstanding athletes on display for Illini coaches, players and fans.

Approximately 40 teams participated in the camp, which was highlighted by the explosive East St. Louis Flyers. Included were teams from three states. St. Louis was well represented by Hazelwood East, Hazelwood West, Lindbergh, Gateway and Vashon.

Chicago Leo and Roosevelt were present, along with suburban schools Wheaton Warrenville South, Maine West, Thornton, Plainfield North and Batavia. Horlick, Wisconsin, has been a regular at this camp.

If East St. Louis' linemen measure up to their skill players, they could go unbeaten this season and be ranked high nationally. Certainly, few if any schools in the country boast two finer receivers than Kraig Appleton and Terry Hawthorne.

A co-captain and leader on the field, Hawthorne played both ways and rarely left the field. He is 6'-1" and extremely fast, and he has great hands. He caught anything near him and showed an ability to get yardage after the catch. And he showed excellent defensive skills as both a man-to-man defender and free safety.

Appleton only played defense when a game was on the line, but he is also a dominant athlete. Taller than Hawthorne at 6'-3", Appleton is a man among boys. Besides his height, he is long-armed, jumps great, and has superb hands. Whenever the Flyers needed a play, they went to Appleton. He simply gets all the jump balls by outreaching defenders.

On one play, junior quarterback Detchauz Wray threw the ball on a line into the back of the end zone higher than the defenders could reach. Appleton leaped high and caught the ball for the TD. Kraig also has outstanding speed, accelerating for a long bomb and stretching out to capture the pass deep in the end zone.

The latter play drew a hugh smile from onlooking coaches Ron Zook and Reggie Mitchell. They are working hard to recruit both Hawthorne and Appleton, and such outstanding play cannot be taken for granted.

Also watching was star quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, still on campus after arriving with his parents on Friday from his home in Kansas City, MO. Needless to say, the Illini coaches would be ecstatic if these three athletes chose Illinois.

East St. Louis is simply loaded. The Illini coaches were also checking out cornerback Tommy Hopkins. Tommy is fast and uses a physical style despite his slender build. Among their younger players is running back Courtney Moulton who will undoubtedly be a star. Only around 5'-8", Moulton possesses powerful thighs, has good hands and a bright personality. Best of all, he has fantastic moves. His lateral explosion reminds of a young Noel Devine.

The quarterback Wray is a junior. He is probably under 6'-0" at this point, but he has a presence and confidence that makes him stand tall in the pocket. He holds the ball high near his right ear and has a quick release and strong arm. And he is already good at looking for 2nd and 3rd receivers when his first option is unavailable. He will likely be a top recruiting prospect next year despite his lack of height.

Two other quarterbacks were of special interest to Illini coaches. Thornton's Darren Jones has a scholarship offer and showed why. Unlike many quarterbacks who have outgoing, cocky personalities, the 6'-2" Jones is more like a quiet assassin. He holds the ball high, has a quick release, and has a strong arm. He also seems adept at finding secondary receivers.

Jones did something most teams could not do on this day: he threw three touchdown passes against East St. Louis. It was nowhere near enough to offset Flyer power, but it was impressive anyway. Wheaton Warrenville South has a ton of athletes and a sophisticated spread offense, but they failed to score against the Flyers.

One of Jones' touchdown passes was to stocky fullback Greg Fuller. Standing around 5'-11" and weighing over 240, Fuller outran the Flyer secondary for a long touchdown bomb. He has surprising skills for a man with a prototypical fullback body.

Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley is the recruiting coach for the Thornton players, and he also paid special interest in the Flyers' offensive stars. But he couldn't help but glance repeatedly at Champaign Centennial. After all, his junior son Meiko was an alternating quarterback for the Chargers while also playing some at wide receiver. The younger Locksley already stands 6'-1" and showed good skills, arm strength, and athleticism.

Several Illini players were on hand as well. Jacob Charest and Jason Ford were accompanied by baskteball player Stan Simpson at the 7 on 7 camp. Jerry Brown had a special interest in watching his former school St. Louis Vashon, and he and Ford also watched East St. Louis since both live nearby.

Graham Pocic, Jeff Allen, Tyler Sands, Tavon Wilson, Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt were among those watching a lineman camp being run concurrently inside Memorial Stadium. Pocic was among those who spent time with unofficial visitor Zack Martin, an offensive lineman from Indianapolis, Indiana (Bishop Chatard).

There were around 300 offensive and defensive linemen at the camp again this year. It is especially attractive to younger prospects as they can receive high-level training. Illini coaches Tom Sims and Eric Wolford were joined by a number of other college-level coaches in assisting the development of these young athletes. Illini commitments Lendale Buckner and Leon Hill, both from Chicago Leo, were among the standouts.

Buckner is 6'-1" and more than 300 pounds, and the nose tackle is strong and explosive at the point of attack. He also showed some quickness despite his build. Defensive linemen had difficulty getting around the 6'-4", 300 pound tackle Hill. These two athletes should be outstanding at Illinois with maturity and technique work.

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