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Garrett: Best in Class of 2014?

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Garrett: Best in Class of 2014?

August 24. That date is indelibly etched in Clifton Garrett's mind. No, it isn't his birthday. Or his girlfriend's. Or the anniversary of the day that Ohio State assistant coach Mike Vrabel called to offer a scholarship.

"It's the day we play Bolingbrook, our season opener," Garrett said. "I'm excited about that game. I want to play against (Illinois-bound quarterback) Aaron Bailey. I'm looking forward to the challenge. It will show how I match up against a big-time prospect."

Garrett is a big-time prospect, too. Plainfield South's 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker is one of the leading recruits in the class of 2014, with Marist tight end Nic Weishar, Prairie Ridge tackle Shane Evans, Bolingbrook defensive back Parker Westphal and Providence tackle Logan Plantz.

"I've seen him on film and he is one of the three top prospects in the sophomore class in Illinois," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "He has size and speed and a great upside.

"With the talent in the class of 2014, the Chicago area could be going back to where it was in the 1980s, when it ruled the roost with California as the leading producers of high school football talent in the country."

Garrett has seen Bailey before. In last year's season opener, Bailey and Bolingbrook crushed Plainfield South 40-16. Bolingbrook went on to win the Class 8A championship while Plainfield South finished 5-5.

"I watched the state final," Garrett said. "Bailey is big and fast and he can run. He's an overall good athlete. I hate losing. I love winning. I'm a big competitor. I'm looking forward to getting another chance to play against him."

In the meantime, Garrett is traveling the recruiting trail and preparing for his junior season. He has come a long way in a short time. He started playing football with the Plainfield Junior Cats as a seventh grader. But his missed his freshman year with a torn meniscus, which he injured while playing basketball. As a sophomore starter on the varsity, he led the team in tackles with 79, despite missing one game with a concussion.

College coaches have seen enough to rate him among the leading prospects in the class of 2014. Illinois offered on May 3, then Indiana. Ohio State offered on May 16, then Michigan State. He has interest from Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Iowa State and Northern Illinois. It's only the beginning.

"My dream school is Ohio State," he said. "I've been watching their games since I was young. I like the way they play defense. I'm impressed by the Horseshoe (Ohio Stadium), the fans, coaching staff and new coach Urban Meyer. I've read a lot about him.

"But I'm going to take my time. I'm surprised by what has happened. I didn't think it would happen so fast. Now I see that all my hard work is paying off. I was very excited when coach Vrabel offered me over the phone. It says to me that I'm doing what I need to do, that they like me and I like them."

Don't be in too big a hurry to put Garrett in a scarlet and gray uniform, however. He will attend Illinois' camp on June 8, Michigan State's camp on June 16 and Ohio State's camp on June 21. He hopes to visit the Notre Dame and Michigan State campuses later this summer. He said he doesn't plan to commit until after his junior year.

"Everybody tells me to make sure I make the right choice, not because of the staff or school colors or reputation." Garrett said. "I want to choose the right fit for me. It is very important to go to a school that will prepare me for the next level. The NFL has been a goal since I started to play football. I know the odds are small. But I try to make the odds bigger for myself. I try to be above average in everything I do."

"As a sophomore, he has a great upside," Plainfield South coach Ken Bublitz said. "He is still growing and still learning the game. He will be even better in college.

"There are two things about him that drew the attention of college coaches: the way in which he finishes plays, the way he tackles. He is a hard hitter. When he tackles people, they go backwards. Also his ability to run sideline to sideline with his size and speed."

Garrett hopes college coaches have seen the BolingbrookLincoln-Way East game film, especially the clip when Garrett sacks Lincoln-Way East quarterback Blake Winkler for a loss and forces a fumble. "It showed my explosiveness, my tackling ability and closing speed," he said.

When he played youth football, Garrett wore jersey number 76 because he was a lineman. He would have worn number 25 as a freshman had he been able to play. But he switched to number 40 as a sophomore because his favorite player is linebacker Vaughn Miller, the former Texas A&M All-American who was the Denver Broncos' first draft choice.

"Miller is a big linebacker with great speed and versatility. I relate to him a lot. I think I'm a mixture of him and (San Francisco 49ers linebacker) Patrick Willis. I look up to both of them a lot. My game matches up to them," Garrett said. "I like Dick Butkus, too, but I'm not into old-school players as much. I also like Lawrence Taylor and Ray Lewis."

Whether Garrett will someday measure up to any of them is still to be determined, of course, but he knows he can get a lot better and he is eager to create a tradition at a high school that is only 10 years old.

"I want to break some records...tackles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, tackles for loss...and leave my mark at the school," he said. "The school doesn't have much of a tradition. But I have two more seasons to go. Every team's goal is to go to state. We have time to establish a tradition of our own."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chuck Garfien on Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chuck Garfien on Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox

SportsTalk Live is at the United Center for Blackhawks Authentic Fan Night. David Haugh, Charlie Roumeliotis and Scott King join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - The Blackhawks look to get back in the win column with the Lightning in town.

5:00 - Chuck Garfien joins Kap to talk about Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox. How much will this help the Sox sign more free agents? Plus the panel discusses how much this improves Willson Contreras' trade value as the Cubs reportedly shop him.

17:00 - Chase Daniel said Mitch Trubisky looked great in practice. Will that translate to the game on Sunday?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Morgan Park's Adam Miller another program-changing recruit for Illinois

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ADAM MILLER

Morgan Park's Adam Miller another program-changing recruit for Illinois

Illinois and head coach Brad Underwood landed their most important recruiting target for the second time in three seasons on Thursday night.

Morgan Park senior guard Adam Miller became the latest Mustang guard to commit to the Illini and Underwood when the preseason co-favorite for Player of the Year announced his decision during a public press conference at the Jordan Brand store on State Street.

A consensus top-40 national prospect in the Class of 2020, Miller's commitment to Illinois gives the program another highly-regarded in-state prospect. Just two years earlier, at the very same Jordan store and under very similar circumstances, Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu announced his college decision to go to Illinois -- a commitment that changed local recruiting momentum at Illinois during Underwood's first full season.  

Although Miller's commitment shares similarities to Dosunmu's, Miller's pledge is also slightly different from his former high school teammate. Any program can win one major recruiting war over the big boys. By doing it twice in three years, it's a major signal that Underwood and Illinois are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to local recruiting. Landing Miller's commitment in a hotly-contested race over his other finalists of Arizona and Louisville, Miller's announcement on Thursday signifies that Illinois and Underwood are ready annually to compete with national powerhouse programs when it comes to keeping local talent at home.

While former Illinois coaches like Bruce Weber and John Groce failed to consistently keep, and develop, top in-state talents late in their tenures, Miller's commitment is a significant indication that Underwood and his staff are making positive recruiting inroads at home that could continue to last.

The term "pipeline" has become cliche in the recruiting world. But it certainly can't hurt Illinois to be continually involved with Morgan Park's best players. The Mustangs continue to churn out Division I prospects every single season. And Morgan Park has another high-major junior -- guard Brandon Weston -- waiting in the wings that Illinois is already recruiting. 

Illinois will certainly need to spread its recruiting efforts more throughout the Chicagoland area to maintain recruiting stability of top in-state talents. Grabbing a top-50 player in two out of three classes -- particularly in a basketball-crazy hotbed like Chicago -- is significant.

During his junior season, Miller took the city by storm as he was the state's most dominant scorer. The lefty averaged 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game -- putting up multiple 40-point games and looking virtually unstoppable during certain stretches of play. Even as opposing defenses threw exotic zones and double-teams his way, it didn't do much to slow Miller down. 

Miller already faced a tough set of local expectations entering the 2019-20 season. Morgan Park returns a loaded, nationally-ranked team. There's a baseline expectation for Miller to replicate his stellar junior season. Those local expectations now become enormous since Miller is staying home and going to Illinois. 

Now that Miller's commitment is under his belt, he can focus on pushing Morgan Park to a potential city and state title as the preseason's No. 1 team in the area. Illinois can focus its recruiting efforts on getting additional reinforcements for Miller and his fellow 2020 recruits. And by the time Miller reaches Champaign next season, Illinois is optimistic that they'll be a consistent NCAA tournament presence once again.