Preps Talk

Early signing period brings new drama/challenges

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Early signing period brings new drama/challenges

Are you ready for Signing Day? Already?

Members of the Class of 2018 will have their first opportunity to early sign a National Letter of Intent from Dec. 20-22 as the NCAA has allowed a first-ever early signing period in football.

What can we expect in a few weeks for all D-1 level recruits, college teams and the recruiting merry go round?

1. Expect a lot of the top names in Illinois and the Midwest to sign on the first day. Illinois (and the upper-Midwest in general) has always been the land of the early verbal commitment. Now, those same early decision makers can end the recruiting process before the holiday season. When looking at the EDGYTIM.com Class of 2018 Top 70 preseason recruit rankings, I expect no more than a dozen of those names to go unsigned in that early LOI period. And out of those names, at least half will not sign because of academic issues.

2. The upper Midwest schools love this new early signing period—and expect them to be very active. Major college programs here in Illinois and also in the surrounding states will undoubtedly benefit the most by an early signing day. Why? Kids in these recruiting areas, unlike the south, have traditionally wrapped up recruiting well before the traditional National Letter of Intent Signing Day (held the first Wednesday every February). The sooner colleges can fill their recruiting class the sooner its recruits are effectively "off the market" by the binding LOI. Also, having potential signees make official visits to less tropical locales (think Champaign, Evanston and DeKalb) in mid-to-late January isn't exactly a recruiting advantage for Midwest-based colleges. 

3. Expect even more drama starting on Dec. 23. Once the smoke clears from the early signing period, the athletes who have not yet signed will start an even-more serious round of heavy recruiting in January. The dash to the next signing day period (Feb. 7) has the potential top be even more drama-filled for many of the top names than in years past. The state's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2018 is Carterville four star-ranked tight end Luke Ford (6-foot-7, 250 pounds), who is also the top-ranked tight end in the nation according to Rivals.com. Ford, whose top three schools include Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, is planning to announce his college decision on Jan. 6 at the US Army All American Bowl game. Once the early signing period is completed — and if any other college doesn't sign a tight end or two as they expected — I fully expect even more schools to make a harder push to land Ford.

4. Recruits need to sign at their own risk. The bottom line is once a recruit signs the National Letter of Intent, regardless of any potential future coaching changes, once you are signed — you are signed. The biggest complaint about the early signing period is that once the NLOI is signed, it's a done deal regardless of any potential staff shakeups. I fully expect kids to sign to a school that will have a coaching change in some capacity. And I also fully expect to hear even more outcry from parents, recruits and high school coaches.

Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites game coverage

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Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites game coverage

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland's top prep sports show, in the hands of area basketball fans in our "Viewers' Choice Game of the Week." Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSPreps) crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights and postgame reaction of that game will appear on that night's "High School Lites" broadcast at 11 p.m. The show also live streams at NBCSportsChicago.com/watchlive. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. the following Saturday. This week, we're profiling teams who are jostling for position near the top of their respective conference. Speaking of battling, did we mention three of the team mascots in this week's poll are named "Warriors?" Which game should we attend Friday night?

Bloom at Rich Central, 6:30 p.m.

Crystal Lake South at McHenry, 7:00 p.m.

Maine West at Deerfield, 7:30 p.m.

Poll opens Monday at 12:00 p.m. and closes Thursday at 4 p.m. Here is what fans need to do to vote:

— Follow @NBCSPreps on Twitter.
— Note the "pinned Tweet" atop the @NBCSPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.
— Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @NBCSPreps just after 4 p.m. Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @NBCSPreps for updates on the "Viewers' Choice Game of the week," along with other high school sports news, scores and highlights this season.

1-on-1 with East St. Louis safety Antonio Johnson

1-on-1 with East St. Louis safety Antonio Johnson

While many top Chicagoland underclassmen took part in the third annual EDGYTIM MLK Underclassmen Showcase powered by EFT Football Academy last week, several others from outside the area participated and made waves of their own. Athletes from Central and Southern Illinois made statements, while others from a dozen states and Canada turned heads as well. 

East St. Louis sophomore safety Antonio Johnson (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) was one of several Flyers who made a very positive impression and made the most of his experience. 

Johnson, who started at wide receiver and safety for the Flyers (10-2 in 2017), is already appearing on several college radar screens. Johnson remains one of several underclassmen to watch for head coach Darren Sunkett over the next few years. 

I caught up with East St. Louis sophomore safety prospect Antonio AJ Johnson at the showcase and discussed his winter plans, his recruiting and why he made the nearly-300 mile trek in the dead of winter to compete at this event.