Says Ware: “It’s not just the Marvin Austin show.”
Sure, Marvin Austin, the prized 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle is easily the crown jewel of the program, which was revitalized by a glut of offseason transfers this past summer. But he’s far from the only Division I prospect on the Knights’ roster.
Most notable among those not named Marvin is offensive lineman Lamar Milstead, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive tackle who is wavering on his verbal commitment to North Carolina. Milstead, was part of a convoy of D.C. players who visited Illinois last week, including Austin, and is also interested in Maryland, Syracuse and Virginia. The three-star prospect held offers from those schools as well as Boston College, Georgia and several other programs at the time of his commitment.
“Every time he looks at ESPN, he hears about [UNC Coach Jim Bunting] not being there next season,” Ware said. “I think he’s still leaning towards Carolina but he wants to explore his options.”
Also in Champaign last weekend was Ballou linebacker Romale Tucker, another player re-considering his options. Tucker, a hard-hitting athlete who checks in at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, committed to the Cavaliers this earlier this month. Like Milstead, he still likes his chosen school, but he wants to make sure it’s the best fit for him. He very much enjoyed his visit to Illinois and also has been recruited by Syracuse.
Asked why his players seemed to be wavering on their decisions, Ware said, “A lot of times the schools pressure kids to commit early, and the kids worry that if they don’t commit right away, the school might take their scholarship [offer] back
The reason for the sudden interest in Illinois is Illini recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley, who attended Ballou and has been very successful recruiting the area for years now – first as an assistant coach at Maryland, and now all the way out in the Midwest.
Locksley lured to Champaign highly sought cornerback Vontae Davis (Dunbar High School in D.C.) – younger brother of NFL star Vernon Davis – and All-American defensive end Melvin Alaeze from Baltimore. Ware, also a Ballou alum, is very familiar with Locksley and is seeing to it that his players at least give Illinois a look.
Ware also has a couple of underclassmen who projects as major-conference Division I players. Sophomore quarterback Emmanuel Yeager (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) is a pure dropback passer and is possibly the second best quarterback in the DCIAA public school league behind Dunbar’s Nathan Bussey, an established DI recruit.
Ballou's offensive line is stacked: Sophomore offensive lineman James Lewter (6-3, 265 pounds) has a frame that should eventually hold 290-to-300 pounds and has played well enough to have the stuff worrying about where to put Milstead when he returns from a broken finger. Junior Devon Lesesne (6-3, 275) and senior Christopher Reynolds (6-3, 285) have been flying under the recruiting radar as well, Ware said, as has junior running back Timothy Dunn, who is playing behind Kent State commit Dwan Thornton.
Another senior athlete, Ronald Holbrooke (6-foot-2, 205) is a sleeper with interest from Illinois, Temple and Hofstra, but no offers yet. Ware expects that to change soon, once he compiles more senior film.
A primary reason for the talent influx at Ballou was the offseason transfers of Austin, Milstead and Tucker from nearby Coolidge High. There apparently was a falling out with the coaching staff there. So when Ware, then a Coolidge assistant, got the Ballou job, a handful of players followed him there.
As for Austin, his list remains the same – Florida State, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Miami and Southern Cal. He’s unlikely to commit until after visits to Miami and Florida State, which seem to be the favorites to land his services.