Preps Talk

National Signing Day 2017 Preview

National Signing Day 2017 Preview

Wednesday is National Signing Day as high school football players from the Class of 2017 sign letters of intent. Here is an early preview of what to expect in Illinois and nationwide:

How will the Class of 2017 shape up compared to previous in-state recruiting classes? 

It will be considered a very strong overall class based off recent history. Heading into the week, I identified 76 players who are expected to sign FBS letters of intent. This would be the highest amount since the Class of 2005 (80 FBS scholarships). There are also 30-40 players expected to sign FCS letters of intent. It will place the class with over 100 DI scholarships, well above the 10 year average.

Top 5 local recruits for the Class of 2017?

1. AJ Epenesa (DE) Edwardsville

Epenesa (6-foot-5, 270 pounds) has been verbally committed to Iowa since Jan. 2016 and is also the son of former Hawkeye lineman Eppy Epenesa. Obviously, Iowa had a relatively easy time recruiting and landing him.

2. Jeff Thomas (WR), East St. Louis

Thomas (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) has been a major impact player for head coach Darren Sunkett's 7A state champion Flyers since his freshman season.

3. Isaiah Robertson (S), Neuqua Valley

Robertson (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) is committed to Notre Dame and already enrolled in classes in South Bend. 

4. Kevin Jarvis (OG), Maine South

Jarvis (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) is committed to Michigan State. Jarvis showed his overall talent and versatility in 2017 by helping lead Maine South to the Class 8A state title. Jarvis was an impact player for the Hawks on both sides of the line, a rarity at the 8A level.

5. Cole Kmet (TE), St. Viator

Kmet (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) rounds out the list. He is another Notre Dame commit who has all the tools that colleges look for in an elite tight end.

Are there any top ranked recruits that will wait until National Signing Day to reveal their college choice?

All eyes will be on East St. Louis Wednesday morning. Thomas will make his college choice known via a national TV audience. The announcement is tentatively set for 9:00 a.m. Last week, Thomas narrowed down his Top 3 schools to Miami (FL), Oregon and Louisville. My best guess? Thomas will commit to the Hurricanes. 

[MORE: Edgy Tim goes 1-on-1 with Warren Township wideout Micah Jones]

When it comes to statewide talent, which positions are considered a strength?

Defensive linemen. Not too long ago, Illinois was known as a stronghold for big offensive tackles. However, over the past few years defensive linemen have taken center stage. Out of the soon-to-be-released Top 100 rankings for the Class of 2017, 22 defensive linemen made the cut. It is the largest amount of any position in the class. Offensive linemen, wide receivers and linebackers all feature at least 15 or more recruits in my Top 100.

Which position is considered a weakness in Illinois?

Quarterbacks. In the aforementioned Top 100 rankings, only four quarterbacks made the cut. No quarterbacks made the Top 20. A handful of quarterbacks will ink FCS letters of intent and the rest will fill up several NAIA/DIII rosters in 2017. It's been awhile since we've had a surplus of recruits receive FBS scholarships. However, the Class of 2018 seems to show more promise than this current group at this same stage a year ago.

Which schools will have a good National Signing Day in regards to landing students from Illinois?

I feel that Illinois did pretty well with in-state recruiting. They've landed some impact players who have a solid chance to make an immediate contribution. I also feel that Northern Illinois did well and might have landed one of their better overall in-state classes in years. I was also impressed with Iowa, Wyoming, the service academies (Army/Navy/Air Force) and also Yale. Seriously ...Yale? Yes, the Bulldogs pulled standout Marist linebacker Micah Awodiran away from several Power 5 schools. Yale also added former Iowa State commit in offensive lineman Tyler Jost.

Work to do

While hundreds of recruits will sign letters of intent on Wednesday, several still have to get going in the classroom. I know of at least 5-7 players from my Illinois Top 25 who are — at best — borderline academic qualifiers and/or need post very strong spring semesters to clear various college admissions departments.

*I will have more in-depth looks and breakdowns of all in-state FBS and FCS college recruiting classes later this week.*

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

There’s country strong. And then there’s Jerry Sloan.

The NBA Hall of Fame player and coach, a tenacious defender and steady offensive threat, became a household name with the Chicago Bulls in the 1970s. Four-time NBA All-Defensive First Team. Two-time NBA-All-Star.

Sloan died Friday after a courageous battle against Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. He was 78.

But it was Sloan’s perseverance as a child and his dedication to the game of basketball —and his home town— 300 miles south of the Windy City that made him a real star.

[MORE: Remember ‘Original Bull’ Jerry Sloan as he lived: tough, humble and honest]

The former Bull, who went on to lead the Utah Jazz to the playoffs in 15 of his 23 seasons there as a head coach, grew up on a farm near McLeansboro, Illinois. The youngest of 10 children, Sloan would routinely wake up in the wee hours to do family chores. He’d then walk two miles to the town’s high school for basketball practice.

The foundation of a hard work ethic and a ferocious competitive nature paved the way for Sloan’s rise to stardom.

Sloan played on several great McLeansboro teams in the late-50s. In his junior season, he helped guide his squad to a 19-6 record for coach Gene Haile. He followed that up with a senior season most kids would dream of: 26 wins, 3 losses. He was named to the All-State team.

He would later guide the Evansville Purple Aces to two Division II national championships. He became known as “the Original Bull” shortly after the startup Bulls franchise drafted him in the 1966 expansion draft. The rest was history—a brilliant 10-year career in Chicago as a player and nearly three more as a head coach on West Madison before becoming a legend in Salt Lake City.

But it was his small-town roots that made Jerry Sloan all the more genuine.

He would return to McLeansboro several times in 1984 —the year he became an assistant with the Utah Jazz— to watch his high school team play. His son, Brian, led the Foxes to the Class A state championship that year, going 35-0 in the process. Brian went on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

Sloan would return frequently to this Southern Illinois town many times during his run with the Jazz— a run where he only finished below .500 once and racked up an astonishing career 1,221 wins. Hamilton County High School, formerly known as McLeansboro, dedicated its gym in Sloan’s honor in Dec. 2012. A road in McLeansboro is now called Jerry Sloan Avenue.

In a statement, a representative from McLeansboro High School said the following:

“Today is a sad day for Hamilton County and the Foxes. Coach Jerry Sloan has passed away. Coach Sloan graduated from McLeansboro High School in 1960 and was always a hometown boy. Whenever he returned he was just one of us. He will be greatly missed. RIP Coach Sloan.”

McLeansboro will always be Sloan Country.

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Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

J.J. McCarthy, the state’s top-ranked high school quarterback and overall player according to Rivals, is transferring from Nazareth Academy to IMG Academy in Florida.

McCarthy made the announcement on his Twitter page Monday afternoon.

The news sent shock waves throughout the national prep football landscape. McCarthy, committed to play at Michigan, led the Roadrunners to an IHSA 7A second place finish back in November. As a sophomore in 2018, he threw for over 3,200 yards and 36 touchdowns. It culminated in a state title win and a 13-1 season.

The move makes sense for McCarthy, as he will team up with offensive lineman Greg Crippen, a fellow Michigan commit. According to Rivals, McCarthy (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) is ranked as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and No. 33 overall recruit in the country.

The loss is a huge one for head coach Tim Racki and company at the La Grange Park school. That said, the Roadrunners are one of the dominant programs in IHSA football, compiling a 38-4 record the past three seasons with three state titles in the previous six campaigns.

The big questions: Will other high-caliber Illinois high school athletes follow McCarthy? When will the IHSA commit to a fall sports schedule? What will Illinois high school football look like in the fall? What guidelines will be in place? There are many uncertainties.

What is known: The IHSA chose to cancel the state basketball tournament and all 2020 spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois is currently in a phased reopening of businesses and other institutions. Florida is ahead of Illinois in respect to some of those aforementioned facilities.

The risk, or perhaps the unknown, was worth it for McCarthy and his family. Will Florida —or other states, including Illinois— even be cleared to play football come August? Will his move be a productive one in retrospect?

Time will tell.