Preps Talk

West Aurora DB Drake Spears Jr. decommits from Illinois

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West Aurora DB Drake Spears Jr. decommits from Illinois

Illinois has seen its fair share of decomittments in the Class of 2016, and now the Fighting Illini have lost one of their top in-state names.

West Aurora senior three star ranked defensive back Drake Spears Jr. (6-foot-, 210 pounds) announced his decommitment from Illinois on his Twitter account last night.

Spears Jr., who had been committed to Illinois since June, had scholarship offers from seven different Mid American Conference schools (including Northern Illinois University) along with offers from New Mexico and Illinois before giving the Fighting Illini his verbal commitment.

This Wednesday begins the National Letter of Intent signing period when recruits are allowed to being signing scholarship paperwork. Spears Jr. could end up waiting beyond this Wednesday before signing with any potential suitors since the only official visit Spears Jr. has made was to Illinois.

Update on Erik Swenson

Downers Grove South senior four star ranked offensive tackle Erik Swenson (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) is in Normal, Okla., this weekend on an official visit to the University of Oklahoma. Swenson, who has yet to be offered a scholarship before making his trip could wind up making his college decision with Oklahoma, or like Spears Jr. could take his recruiting process beyond this coming Wednesday.

Swenson, who was committed to Michigan since the start of his sophomore season, was asked to reopen his recruiting process by the Wolverines staff a few weeks ago.

Who are the candidates for Chicagoland HS football player of the year?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Who are the candidates for Chicagoland HS football player of the year?

It's never easy to select just one standout player from across Chicagoland. Several players that are highly considered for this honor hail from teams that are still remaining in the IHSA state championship games. Here are my top Chicagoland Player of the Year candidates, in no particular order:

QB John Bean, Brother Rice: Bean, a senior signal caller, has been -easily- the biggest key in the Crusader's offense this season. Bean is a threat with the run (823 yards rushing 14 touchdowns) and the pass (124 of 205 passes for 1,854 yards 18 touchdowns). He has also been a calm and confident leader for a Crusaders team that has gone from a 2-7 season in 2017 to a 13-0 record this fall and a potential Class 8A state title this Saturday.

WR/DB/KR Michael Love, Nazareth Academy: Love, a senior who was committed this offseason to Bowling Green, has since reopened his recruiting process this season. Love has been a major impact performer for the Roadrunners and head coach Tim Racki in all three phases of the game. This season, Love has caught 54 passes for 1,087 yards and 18 touchdowns while also adding 289 yard rushing and four touchdowns. Love also has been an impact defensive back who, more often than not, is assigned the opposing team's top speed receiver. Love also is an electric kick and punt returner. 

QB JJ McCarthy, Nazareth Academy: McCarthy, a sophomore signal caller, was under some serious attention and scrutiny after adding FBS level scholarship offers as a freshman before even taking a snap at the varsity level. The attention only increased after several impressive offseason camp performances. This season, McCarthy has been a huge key for the Roadrunners having completed 161 of 219 passes for 3,088 yards and 35 touchdowns with just four interceptions all season. McCarthy has all the physical tools and maturity beyond his years, and at times it's scary to even think that McCarthy has two more full seasons of high school football still ahead of him.

QB Jack Baltz, Lincoln-Way East: Baltz, who is verbally committed to Illinois State, was able to spearhead the Griffins offense this season and took full advantage of his senior season after serving as a backup on the 2017 8A state title team. One of the best playoff games for Baltz was a five touchdown effort against St. Charles East. He passed for 244 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 45 yards and another score in a 49-0 victory.

QB/ATH Alante Brown, Simeon: Brown, who is verbally committed to Michigan State as a receiver, has been spectacular for the Wolverines and head coach Dante Culbreath. This fall, Brown amassed 3,436 yards of offense (2,347 yards passing and 1,089 yards rushing) and a combined 41 touchdowns. Brown can also play at any number of spots on the football field. He answered the call at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back in his varsity career at Simeon. 

S Jake Gonzales, Loyola Academy: Gonzales, who is verbally committed to Penn, is the quarterback of the Ramblers defense-- and has been for the past handful of seasons. Gonzales, who leads the Ramblers this season with 125 tackles and two interceptions, is always around the football. He is a big time finisher who also has exceptional football smarts and instincts. 

QB Payton Thorne, Naperville Central: Thorne, who is verbally committed to Western Michigan, wrapped up an outstanding career at Naperville Central after starting his first two years at Metea Valley. In 2018, Thorne completed 204 of 319 passes for 3,079 yards and 40 touchdowns in just 11 games. Thorne also ran for 4440 yards and four touchdowns and was easily one of the top overall quarterbacks in Chicagoland. 

RB Keenan Hailey, Joliet Catholic: Hailey, a senior who was expected to share the Hilltoppers' rushing game load with junior RB Kenyetta William. However, he wound up being the main runner for head coach Jake Jaworski after Williams went down with a season ending injury in the opening week. All Keenan Hailey has done this season is carry the ball 300 times for 2,541 yards and 32 touchdowns while drawing the attention of every opposing defense all season long.

QB Mike Markett, Marist: Markett, a multi-year starter for the Redhawks and head coach Ron Dawczak, posted some very impressive numbers in leading Marist to the Class 8A semifinals. Markett completed 151 of 248 passes for 2,032 yards and 17 touchdowns while also rushing for 944 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Markett made huge strides  in both the passing game and on the ground. He became a much more confident runner in 2018. 

WR/S Tyler Nubin, St. Charles North: Nubin has solid overall numbers. But his value to the North Stars program over the past few seasons is immeasurable. Nubin, who is verbally committed to Minnesota, has run for 530 yards and 12 touchdowns while also catching 40 passes for 638 yards and nine touchdowns. Yet Nubin can -and will- play anywhere on the field. That includes under center as a Wildcat quarterback. His efforts in double overtime led North to huge win over Mount Carmel last Saturday, sending the North Stars to the 7A state title game for the first time in school history. 

OL/DL Addison West, Cary-Grove: Ok, it's rare that a linemen will draw any sort of serious "Player of the Year" accolades, That said, West is undoubtedly one of the biggest keys on both side of the football for the Trojans this season. West, a 6-foot-5, 275 pound senior who's verbally committed to Western Michigan, is a three year starter on coach Brad Seaburg's offensive line. He has also been starting on the defensive line this fall for the first time in his high school career. West has terrific size, strength and quickness along with possessing a non-stop motor. 

Boys Basketball Preseason All-Area Team

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NBC Sports Chicago

Boys Basketball Preseason All-Area Team

Since the IHSA boys basketball season tips today, it is time to take a look at this season's Preseason All-Area team. Similar to how college basketball has Preseason All-Americans, NBC Sports Chicago gives you the three teams with 15 players who have a chance to have huge seasons.

Limited to players from the Chicagoland coverage area of NBC Sports Chicago, this list won't include downstate players like Belleville West's E.J. Liddell. But it's a good representation of some of the names to keep an eye on for the local Player of the Year race that will occur this season.

Be sure to watch many of these players on High School Lites this season as we switch to basketball beginning on Friday, Nov. 30. And follow our Preps Twitter account @NBCSPreps for the latest news and notes on area teams and players.

FIRST TEAM

Markese Jacobs, Uplift -- Explosive and capable of constant highlight-reel plays, the 5-foot-11 Jacobs is a serious Player of the Year candidate. Formerly committed to Kansas, but now signed to play at DePaul, Jacobs is considered a consensus top-150 prospect in the senior class. As a junior, Jacobs helped Uplift to a Class 2A regional title as he put up 18.4 points, 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals per contest. 

DaJuan Gordon, Curie -- Breaking out on the scene as a junior, the 6-foot-4 Gordon parlayed that success into an eye-opening summer. Now considered a consensus top-150 prospect in the national senior class, Gordon signed with Kansas State. Last season for the Condors, Gordon averaged 16 points per game as he's one of the premier scorers in the state. 

Marquise Kennedy, Brother Rice -- Coming off of a big summer playing with the Illinois Wolves, the 6-foot-1 Kennedy had high-major scholarship offers before eventually deciding on Loyola. An athletic floor general who is tough to keep out of the paint, Kennedy averaged 17.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a junior. Kennedy has the potential to put up huge stats this season with Brother Rice not returning very much experience. 

D.J. Steward, Whitney Young -- After transferring from Fenwick to Whitney Young the 6-foot-4 junior will have even more of a spotlight on him after a tremendous sophomore season. A consensus top-75 prospect in his class, Steward averaged 18.4 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals per game for the Friars last season. Now that he's teaming with another high-major prospect in junior guard Tyler Beard, Steward and the Dolphins are hoping for another trip to Peoria. 

Perry Cowan, DePaul Prep -- A major varsity presence at DePaul Prep the past few seasons, the 6-foot-4 Cowan is a gifted three-level scorer. The shooting guard had some big games against strong competition last season as he averaged 18.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game as a junior. Committed to Brown, Cowan has the skill level to make plays in a number of unique ways.  

SECOND TEAM

Tom Welch, Naperville North -- After helping Naperville North's soccer team capture a third straight state title as one of the nation's top goalies, the 6-foot-7 Welch switches his focus to the hardwood. Committed to Loyola for basketball, Welch is one of the most skilled and competitive frontcourt players in the state. The only returning Naperville North starter, Welch averaged 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game as a junior.

RayJ Dennis, Oswego East -- Smooth with the ball in his hands, this point guard is headed to Boise State next season. A premier pull-up shooter, Dennis averaged 17.2 points, 4.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game as a junior. Oswego East has top-25 expectations this season as Dennis is surrounded by plenty of talent. 

Adam Miller, Morgan Park -- Only one of two juniors to make this list, the 6-foot-3 Miller is also nationally-ranked in his class. Capable of taking over a game with his scoring outbursts, Miller is one of the only players in the area capable of consistent monster scoring outings. A three-point threat, the lefty averaged 15 points per game during his first season in the area as a sophomore.

Tyler Cochran, Bolingbrook -- One of the state's most experienced senior guards, Cochran has already been to Peoria as a sophomore while stepping up in plenty of big games last season. The Northern Illinois pledge is part of an all-Division I backcourt with fellow senior Joseph Yesufu as they should be tough to stop this season. The 6-foot-2 Cochran averaged 15 points per game as a junior.

Bryant Brown, Waukegan -- Although Waukegan had a disappointing season in 2017-18, the 6-foot-5 Brown still put up eye-opening numbers. Uncommitted for college, this senior averaged 23.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 blocks per game last season. Brown can battle inside as a nightly double-double threat while also being skilled enough to step away and hit perimeter shots. 

THIRD TEAM

Lance Jones, Evanston -- One of the area's premier big-game players, the 6-foot-1 Jones always seems to step up with huge plays in critical games. The Southern Illinois commit was a huge part of the Wildkits finishing third in Class 4A last season as Evanston will have sizable expectations once again this season. Jones averaged 15.5 points per game as a junior as his bully-ball brand of perimeter play can be tough to stop at the high school level.

Jeremiah Hernandez, St. Viator -- Part of a dynamic backcourt duo with fellow senior guard Trey Calvin, the 6-foot-4 Hernandez can be very tough to stop once he gets rolling. Headed to Kent State after his high school career comes to a close, Hernandez is hoping to lead the Lions to a deep run in Class 3A after an unbeaten conference title in the ESCC last season. Hernandez put up 15 points, four rebounds and three assists per game last season.

Nate Ferguson, Lemont -- Perhaps the most underrated player on this list, the 6-foot-7 Ferguson is one of the state's most versatile offensive threats. The Drake commit is coming off of a strong summer in which he showcased the athleticism to play above the rim with the skill level to play behind the line. As a junior, Ferguson averaged 15.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

Max Christie, Rolling Meadows -- The only sophomore to make this list, the nationally-ranked Christie might be the best long-term basketball prospect to make this Preseason All-Area team. Pushing 6-foot-6, Christie acclimated quickly to the varsity level as a freshman last season as he averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Christie is capable of playing nearly any spot on the floor at the high school level but he's a matchup nightmare thanks to his size at guard.

Fred Cleveland Jr., Leo -- Although the senior is undersized at 5-foot-8, Cleveland makes up for it by being one of the most complete point guards in the state. Committed to North Carolina A&T, Cleveland helped revitalize the Lions last season as he averaged 20.3 points, 7 assists, 3.5 steals and 2.7 rebounds per game. Leo has high hopes to make a major run in Class 2A this season as Cleveland could leave high school with more hardware.