After 126 tackles and 18 sacks as a junior for Leo Catholic (Ill.) H.S., Buckner, according to his high school coach Michael Holmes, finished with roughly 70 tackles, 20 for loss yardage and eight sacks. But what makes Buckner's numbers better than last season was considering that he still recorded those numbers while consistently facing double and triple teams throughout the season.
"Nothing is going to get by him and in the trenches, he is going to stop most everything that comes his way," Holmes said of Buckner's play. "He was so dominant that a lot of teams this year didn't run his way. For his size, he is a tremendous athlete with his quickness off the ball and his size and strength. He's rare for a kid to be 315 pounds in high school and move like he can move."
A four-star recruit and the 11th-ranked defensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com, Buckner's skills didn't go unnoticed by the home state Illini, who started actively recruited Buckner at the end of his sophomore year because of the size and athleticism he possessed. After the 2008 signing day, Illinois extended a scholarship offer and Buckner gave the Illini his verbal commitment with one caveat, he was still going to take some visits.
"He really liked Illinois and he still likes Illinois," Holmes said. "We talked about it and told him that he should enjoy the process. He felt Illinois was the right school but he wanted to take visits to other schools and he told Illinois that same thing. When he made the commitment, he had been to other schools on unofficial visits and he still liked what Illinois had. The decision was based on what he liked – no other reason."
In addition to wanting to visit Michigan State, one of those schools that Buckner wanted to experience was the University of Wisconsin. Being recruited by linebacker coach Randall McCray, Buckner drove up with his mother the weekend of December 5, watching the Badgers practice Friday evening and Saturday morning while getting to meet the coaching staff, have dinner with the team and check out the campus; an experience that positively impacted him, according to his coach.
"He said he had a great time with his Mom and all the guys showed him a great time up there and that he came way real impressed," Holmes said. "He's always liked Wisconsin. I don't think there was anything about Wisconsin that he didn't like. At the time when he committed to Illinois, he liked Illinois a little more and some things there that he liked better. I know he enjoyed talking to Coach (Bielema) and Coach McCray, who is doing a great job recruiting him."
Although visiting Illinois several times, Buckner has yet to take his official visit to Champaign, which he will do this upcoming weekend. Michigan State originally wanted Buckner to take his official visit last weekend but already had committed on coming to Madison and will take in East Lansing in mid-January, after which he plans on making his decision final.
"If he decides to make a change, he is going to make that decision a little later," Holmes said. "We talked about finishing up his visits. He is going to go to Michigan State and take his official visit to Illinois. He's been there several times but never on an official. At that point, if something sticks out to him that he wants to make a chance, I am sure he'll do that. If not, then I'm sure he'll stick with Illinois."
Although he still has things to work on before making an impact at the next level, any doubt of Buckner's ability to perform at the next level will, according to Moore, be answered the moment the tackle gets on campus and starts going one-on-one against other players his size.
"They can't double and triple team him," Holmes said with a laugh. "In high school, you can sacrifice blocking some other people to get one guy out of the way and still have success. In the college level, you may get scrapped blocked but you can still have the ability to come off the scrape and make the play. It will hard for one guy to handle him on a single solo block in college.
"Like any young linemen and because he can handle most linemen, he has to work on his technique because he has a tendency to grab the man, pull him down and run to the ball," he added. "At the college level, he can't make every play and has to control his area first and that's something we've been working on. But when you can physically knock your man back into the ball carrier, it's hard to practice because I don't think that's going to hold him back once he gets to college and he'll make the adjustment."