Preps Talk

Home-grown talent leading Illinois football schools to success


Home-grown talent leading Illinois football schools to success

In case you've been busy and haven't noticed, college football in Illinois has been pretty good.

While the recruiting circles in Illinois have long been considered, at best, a middle of the road talent base, the results on the field have been much better than mediocre at all levels.

In Evanston, former Sandburg Eagle standout and current Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has the Wildcats (5-0) playing terrific football with a roster full of Illinois born and bred impact players.

Illinois (4-1) and interim head coach Bill Cubit pulled off a huge win last week against Nebraska. The Fighting Illini also have a roster loaded with Illinois kids.

What about Northern Illinois? Sure, the Huskies (2-3) have dropped three straight games. But all the Huskies have done is win 10 or more games a season since 2010, primarily with kids from the Land of Lincoln.

But what about the self-perceived top college football conference in the nation, the SEC? Florida's defense is anchored by Bolingbrook linebacker Antonio Morrison, while LSU's run game features Lemont junior interior offensive linemen Ethan Pocic. Vanderbilt is getting a breakout season from Danville wide receiver Trent Sherfield. Ole Miss features former Crete-Monee Illinois Player of the Year, Laquon Treadwell, who is already being projected as a first round NFL draft pick.

[MORE: High school football's most important numbers this year]

And the impact of Illinois-born kids making an impact can be seen on all levels of college football.

Illinois State (3-1) is the third-ranked team in the FCS. The Redbirds have a great chance of getting back to the FCS National Championship game while Missouri Valley conference rival Western Illinois (2-2) is also on the verge of cracking the FCS Top 25. Search the rosters of the remaining out-of-state Missouri Valley Conference schools, and again Illinois kids are making an impact.

What about the NAIA powers? No. 5 St. Xavier (4-1), along with No. 12 Robert Morris (4-1) and No. 22 St. Francis (4-1) in Joliet all have Illinois kids up and down the rosters. All three are winning and getting it done with in-state players.

How about Division III? Again, no shortage of Illinois kids here with No. 7 Wheaton College (4-0) No. 17 North Central College (2-2), No. 24 University of Chicago (4-0) and No. 25 Illinois Wesleyan (4-0). Throw in a (nearby) No. 1 back-to-back national champion, University of Wisconsin Whitewater (4-0) and No. 12 University of Platteville (3-1). Both schools feature Illinois-based kids all over the field and the talent level of our state continues to show well.

So maybe, just maybe, this could be one of those seasons where the Prairie State might be a little bit better than advertised?

For state pride sake, we can only hope...and keep beating everyone on all levels.

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Andrew Porter, Ron Rivera, Chris Lewis, Ryan McGuire and Clint Connelly

How they fared in 2017: 8-2 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A state football playoff field. The Astros lost to Marmion Academy in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Leyden

Sept. 1 @ Stagg

Sept 7 vs Hillcrest

Sept. 14 vs Eisenhower

Sept. 21 @ Richards

Sept. 28 @ Oak Lawn

Oct. 5 vs Reavis

Oct. 12 vs Evergreen Park

Oct. 19 @ Argo

Biggest storyline: First-year head coach John Rone. Can the Astros challenge once again for the South Suburban Red conference title under a new head coach?

Names to watch this season: RB/LB Chris Harrison and TE/DE Kevin Graham

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros bring back 10 returning starters (five offense, five defense). Overall depth could also be a concern.  

EDGY's Early Take: Shepard will be led by former Eisenhower assistant Rone, who was able to retain an experienced staff at Shepard. It will help ease the transition from former head coach Dominic Passolano this summer. If the Astros can get off to a good early start they have the overall talent to again make a state playoff appearance in 2018. Can they challenge conference power Richards in the South Suburban Red race?

64 Days to Kickoff: T.F. South

64 Days to Kickoff: T.F. South

Head coach: Bob Padjen

Assistant coaches: Trent Jensen, Jesse Kikkert, Jonathan Hill, Doug Smith, Mike Tisza, Rob Shell and Tim Russell

How they fared in 2017: 6-4 (3-3 South Suburban Blue Conference), T.F. South made the Class 6A state football playoff field. The Rebels lost to Danville in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Thornwood

Sept. 1 vs Julian

Sept. 7 vs Oak Forest

Sept. 14 @ TF North

Sept. 21 vs Bremen

Sept. 28 @ Reavis

Oct. 5 vs Hillcrest

Oct. 12 @ Lemont

Oct. 19 @ Tinley Park

[MORE: 86 Days to Kickoff - Reavis]

Biggest storyline: T.F. South has advanced to the playoffs 20 times in the past 24 seasons. Can the Rebels get back to the IHSA state playoff field and make more noise this fall?

Names to watch this season: QB Kamron Clayton LB Michael Smith

Biggest holes to fill: The Rebels will need to replace seven starters on each side of the football this fall. 

EDGY's Early Take: T.F. South head coach Bob Padjen was able to keep the Rebels on a winning path in his first season as Rebels head coach after several years serving in an assistant role. South always has talent. If the underclassmen can step up this summer, look for the Rebels to challenge for the top half of the South Suburban Blue conference race.