Moving the clock an hour ahead is an annual right of passage in the Central time zone every spring. Similarly, moving the clock ahead seems to also include the NCAA football recruiting clock.
Northwestern already has six Class of 2018 verbal commitments, launching the Wildcats to one of their best early in-state recruiting efforts in recent memory. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has locked in a verbal from one of the top defensive ends in the Midwest: Rivals.com's four star-ranked Devin O'Rourke (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) from Lincoln-Way East. He also has commitments from three in-state names in Libertyville offensive linemen Charlie Schmidt, New Trier's three star-ranked tight end Brian Kaiser (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) and Dunlap's three star-ranked tight end Charlie Mangieri (6-foot-4, 230 pounds).
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The Wildcats are not the only in-state school making early progress on the recruiting front. Northern Illinois and head coach Rod Carey's staff has made a major philosophy change in recruiting approach. No longer are the Huskies playing the wait-and-see game when it comes to extending early scholarship offers. Northern Illinois already has three in-state verbal commitments so far: Danville offensive linemen Julian Pearl (6-foot-7, 245 pounds), Andrew defensive end Mike DeHaan (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) and Plainfield East defensive tackle Jack Sullivan (6-foot-5, 245 pounds). The Huskies have also have extended more in-state scholarship offers for 2018 than any others in recent memory.
While several of the in-state FCS schools have yet to lock up any known verbal commitments, the recruiting calendar has indeed moved up for the likes of Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois. Both Illinois State and Southern Illinois have already hosted several in-state recruits this winter for various Junior Day events and have extended early offers to a few athletes. And on Monday, Western Illinois extended several early in-state offers as well.
So why offer a scholarship this early in the process? The reasons vary. Colleges want to be the first school to offer prospects after making earlier college visits and camps. Also, with the NCAA expected to add at least one additional early football signing period starting with the Class of 2019, I fully expect more and more early offers and verbal commitments to follow from here on out.
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.
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.