Jake Howe was drawing little interest from colleges until Paul Petrino was hired to be the new offensive coordinator at Illinois. Howe was already on Illinois' recruiting list, but as an undersized defensive lineman. Petrino saw on tape Howe's potential as a fullback. Howe describes what happened next.
"I was offered just before we went on semester break. Coach (Joe) Gilbert said that things were probably gonna work out after Petrino saw the film. The defensive coordinator saw the film, and he liked it also. So they offered me a scholarship."
Howe was thrilled to get the offer and committed shortly thereafter. He was being recruited only by Illinois State and South Dakota State as an athlete, so a major college offer was a big step up. He hasn't yet made his official visit, which is coming up the weekend of January 22nd, but he is no stranger to the campus.
"I went there for a junior day last year, and I had a home feeling right away. I met the coaching staff. I went to a summer camp at Lane Tech. And then I went on two game day visits, and it seemed like a good place to be. Plus the academics."
Howe has never played fullback before, but he was a mainstay for McHenry according to coach Tim Beagle.
"We play a one-back, and he was the running back on offense and defensive end on defense. And he was our long snapper. He didn't miss a snap on either side of the ball all year."
The 6'-3", 260 pounder made an effort to get noticed, but he wishes he could have done one thing differently.
"I sent out a lot of film. I think I made a big mistake by not going to the All-American combine last year. I had the application, but I didn't look into it too much."
He did go to several summer camps.
"I went to Illinois, Iowa, Ball State, Arizona and Indiana. It was a busy June and July."
Trouble was, he worked out as a defensive lineman. He thinks he knows why he didn't thrill defensive line coaches at those camps.
"I guess I was a hair less quick off the ball as the defensive ends they want, and they have guys on their list that are three hundred pound defensive tackles. They thought I was a little small at 260."
Fortunately for Illinois, Petrino saw something in Howe others had not. Beagle thinks he played well enough to draw more attention, but Howe never played fullback for him.
"He was one of our All-Conference and All-Area kids, so I'm not exactly too sure why (he wasn't noticed). He wasn't a conventional fullback for us. He was our single back, and he was running the ball.
"And he was also catching the ball a lot out of the backfield. He probably has mid 4.8 speed, so I imagine by the time they're done with him in college he'd be a pretty solid fullback."
Howe is a fan of Petrino, who wants him ready to compete for playing time as a freshman.
"I like him a lot. He's a real enthusiastic guy. He seems excited to get me down there to help him run the new offense at Illinois.
"Basically, Petrino told me he wanted me to be the bad boy of the offense. He wants me to take out the middle linebacker and go out for passes. I caught quite a few passes as a running back this last year."
Howe expects to get much better working with Coach Lou Hernandez this summer and fall.
"He (Petrino) thinks size-wise I'm perfect. I've just got to get more tone. And then I could probably get a few steps faster. So I look forward to working with the strength & conditioning coach."
Not only will that improve his physicality, it will be a good introduction for his future as he hopes to be a strength and conditioning coach someday. Gilbert is his regular recruiting coach, and the two of them have developed a good relationship.
"He's also an enthusiastic guy. He's personable, and I like him a lot. He kept in touch with me and let me know what was going on through the whole process."
McHenry's lack of success may have played a role in his getting overlooked by other schools.
"We ended up 4-5 this year," Beagle explained. "We got off to a real slow start, and injuries took their toll early. We ended up playing better toward the end of the year. We are in the Fox Valley Conference. Cary-Grove won a state championship this year."
Cary-Grove had to defeat fellow conference member Prairie Ridge in the semi-finals of the 6A state tournament to reach the championship game. Other conference members who had success in the playoffs were Crystal Lake South, winners of a first round 7A playoff game, and Johnsburg, a quarterfinalist in 4A.