NCF On The Trail: Illinois State Redbirds

States of strength: Texas RBs 

May, 15, 2014
When it comes to running backs, the state of Texas is loaded. Ten running backs represent the Lone Star State in the ESPN 300. Of those 10, five are committed. A total of seven running backs in the state have reported FBS commitments.

ESPN 300 RBs from the state:

No. 50 Ronald Jones II: Ranked the nation’s No. 3 running back, Jones is an explosive, game-changing back who -- as scary as it might sound -- will only get better. Jones committed to Oklahoma State on April 6 and finished his junior season with more than 2,400 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.

Big Ten recruiting mailbag

September, 27, 2013
It’s time to dip into the Big Ten recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions. We’ll try to give everyone a chance to get their questions answered. We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter to @bbournival or @TomVH.

@JUSTINSMITH78: With the scholarships coming back to Penn State. Where do you think they stand this year with some kids?

Brad Bournival: Targets like three-star Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) said it best following the announcement of the reduction of the scholarships when he talked about being happy for Penn State, but stated he always considered the Nittany Lions a destination. The feeling here is it won’t affect the 2014 class that much as it will next year. The father of ESPN Junior 300 wide receiver David Dowell (Lakewood, Ohio/St. Edward) and his twin Andrew has said the fact scholarships will be up 20 percent will only help moving forward.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Bill KostrounGood news from the NCAA could lead to a recruiting windfall for Bill O'Brien and Penn State.
@PSUlions1121 How much does the reduction in sanctions for Penn State help them with recruiting?

Tom VanHaaren: There are two sides of this, the short term and the long term.

In the short term it’s great because it allows the Nittany Lions to potentially add five more prospects to the 2014 class. They can offer and pursue kids they might not have gone after with the scholarship reductions and it gives them a little more wiggle room.

In the long run it’s outstanding because the potential hit to the depth chart is lowered drastically. Having a limit in scholarships doesn’t necessarily affect the team right away, but once they get a few recruiting classes deep with limited numbers it starts to show its impact. Avoiding that is the biggest advantage.

@dannograef: How big is the gap in recruiting between the Big Ten and SEC right now?

Bournival: It’s still pretty large. One look at the top 25 in this year’s class rankings shows seven SEC teams with Alabama (No. 1), Tennessee (3) and Georgia (5) in the top five. The Big Ten only has Michigan (No. 6), Ohio State (9) and Penn State (25) in the top 25.

The quality of athlete is still stronger in the SEC. Alabama (14), Tennessee (10), Georgia (9), Florida (9), Texas A&M (9), LSU (9) and Auburn (7) account for 67 ESPN 300 commitments. While Michigan (9), Ohio State (7) and Penn State (3) are doing well, the entire Big Ten Conference only has 24 in the top 300 and that doesn’t even count the number of four-star athletes both conferences boast, which again weighs heavily in the SEC’s favor.

@UofMKirwin12 What happens first, Michigan moves up in class rankings with a commit or moves down with commits elsewhere. The Wolverines have been at No. 6 for a while now.

VanHaaren: Good question. I think they will move up before moving down. Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) is announcing his decision on Nov. 14. Michigan is in his top three with Alabama and Florida and there is a realistic shot that the Wolverines land him.

If he does end up picking Michigan, it will be the only team with two top-five commits in the 2014 class. Hand, at No. 4 overall, would make two five-star commits along with Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) and that would give them a boost.

@buckeyefan686: You’ve been right on the money with predicting the last Ohio State commits, so who and when do you predict is the next one?

Bournival: For me all signs point to Gesicki, but with some underlying factors. First, the Buckeyes’ commitments have to make him feel welcome this weekend -- they’re very good at that, by the way -- and really make him feel like family. After that, Ohio State will have to survive a visit to Penn State on Oct. 12 when the Nittany Lions play Michigan. Both atmospheres will be lively, but I think the Buckeyes can sell the three-star tight end on coming to Columbus.

@MikeBelik1: Any jucos that can make a splash next year in the Big Ten?

VanHaaren: Illinois is losing four wide receivers after this season, so it was highly important that the coaching staff filled that need. They landed some good looking receiver prospects including juco receiver Tyrin Stone-Davis (Philadelphia/Pierce College). He has good size and should be able to help right away.

Indiana landed a good looking offensive line prospect in DeAndre Herron (Avon, Ind./Iowa Western Community College), who was a big recruit out of high school. He might not play right away since the Hoosiers have a relatively young line, but he should eventually see the field.

A few uncommitted prospects who could end up in the Big Ten include offensive lineman Luke Hayes (El Dorado, Kan./Butler County Community College) and defensive linemen Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kan./Dodge City Community College) and Joe Keels (Highland, Kan./Highland Community College).

Big Ten's 2014 impact freshmen 

September, 25, 2013
Who’s the next Johnny Manziel? For that matter, who has an opportunity to start for a Big Ten team? Is there a Heisman Trophy candidate in the mix in this year’s Big Ten recruiting class?

Recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren tackle those questions in this week’s version of The List:

Current 2014 QB prospect that could start immediately:

Tom VanHaaren: Most schools either have a returning starter, or younger quarterbacks who will likely be ahead of the 2014 prospects so there likely isn’t anyone.

If I had to pick a few that could see playing time I would say Northwestern commit Clayton Thorson (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton North), potentially Chris Durkin (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) if Michigan State can’t figure out the offense and maybe Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate) if there is an injury to Devin Gardner.

Brad Bournival: The problem with most of the Big Ten QB signees is that there’s already a big name QB in front of them. Iowa could make a case here with Jay Scheel (La Porte City, Iowa/Union), but the fact it has three signal-callers returning kind of ends that talk. Like VanHaaren, I’m going with Durkin at Michigan State. The Spartans are hardly set at the position and Durkin comes in with the athleticism and arm strength needed to succeed at the next level. If he can shore up his reads, Durkin could be the guy in East Lansing.

Program changing 2014 recruiting class:

VanHaaren: Michigan is filling a lot of holes with its 2014 class and there is a good chance it continues to add to it. The Wolverines have landed nine ESPN 300 commitments and could still add more. The biggest piece, though, is five-star defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) who is Michigan’s highest-rated prospect since the inception of ESPN’s rankings.

Bournival: Ohio State loses four offensive linemen and is light at linebacker and wide receiver. This class has three linemen already as well as three 'backers, and the Buckeyes are the favorite to land the top-rated 'backer in ESPN 300 standout Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County). Where the Buckeyes shine is at the wide receiver/athlete position as six standouts with 4.5 40-yard dash speed or better make up the class.

Current 2014 prospect with Heisman potential:

VanHaaren: The only Big Ten commit I would feel somewhat comfortable in this category is probably Peppers. Even for him that’s going to be a stretch, but he is the only commit who I think could fall in this category.

Bournival: Like VanHaaren said, this is a tough one as the top-ranked players are Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), McMillan, Peppers and Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech) coming in. That said, defense isn’t that sexy to Heisman voters. If Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) picks a Big Ten team and IF he plays offense, he might be the best bet. But that’s a lot of ifs.

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Baker cooking up something great 

September, 5, 2013
A year ago, Jerome Baker Jr. (Cleveland/Benedictine) toiled in obscurity.

Now, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound junior can’t move an inch without someone asking about him.

Such is the life of an ESPN Junior 300 standout that has burst onto the scene as a can’t-miss prospect in the 2015 class.

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Niemann makes the switch to Iowa

July, 21, 2013
Outside linebacker prospect Ben Niemann (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) has changed his commitment from Northern Illinois to Iowa, according to multiple reports.

Ben's decision could sting his father Jay, who is the defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois and played college football for the Hawkeyes' in-state rival, Iowa State.

Eastern Michigan and Illinois State also offered the the 6-foot-3, 195-pound high school wide receiver, who is expected to make the transition to defense at the next level. He had 876 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior.

Iowa has a dozen pledges on board for 2014.

Illinois secures LB Austin Roberts

June, 14, 2013
Class of 2014 inside linebacker Austin Roberts (Rice Lake, Wis./Rice Lake) committed Thursday to sign with the Illini, multiple sources report.

Roberts was heavily recruited by non-BCS, FCS and Ivy League schools. Air Force, Army, Central Michigan, Columbia, Harvard, Illinois State, North Dakota State, Pennsylvania, South Dakota State, Wyoming and Yale extended offers to the 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect.

He registered 152 total tackles, seven sacks and an interception during his junior campaign.

Illinois now has six pledges.

Huskers get started up front with Farmer

June, 11, 2013
Class of 2014 offensive lineman Tanner Farmer (Highland, Ill./Highland) committed Tuesday to play for Nebraska, multiple sources report.

The 6-foot-4, 306-pound prospect also has scholarship offers from Illinois, Illinois State, Minnesota, Missouri and Western Michigan. Ball State, Central Michigan, Indiana, Kansas and Memphis showed interest.

Farmer is Nebraska's first commitment along either line and its fourth pledge overall.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. In the start of a weeklong series, we'll examine the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. First up: the Big Ten.

Biggest obstacle: There are two problems: perception and a limited talent pool. The consensus top states in the nation for talent are Florida, Texas, California and Georgia, and unfortunately for the Big Ten, none of them is in the Midwest. Talent can be found within the states in the Big Ten's footprint, but a good deal of work on the recruiting trail within this conference needs to be done outside of its base. For the 2013 class, only roughly 57 percent of the players signed by Big Ten teams came from the states that house Big Ten programs, and many of those came out of Ohio. By comparison, roughly 71 percent of the prospects signed by Pac-12 schools for 2013 came from within its own states, and in the SEC, that number was closer to 85 percent. Granted, California supplied the majority of the talent signed by the Pac-12 teams -- and the Golden State is big enough to supply an entire conference -- but the Big Ten lacks any one particular state that can act as a key feeder for an entire conference, like California for the Pac-12 or Texas for the Big 12. It's a problem because the farther these Big Ten teams have to stray from their base for talent, the tougher it is for it to lure prospects from competing programs that might be closer to home.

Besides having to often cast a wider net for talent than most of its BCS counterparts, the conference has also battled some perception problems about its ability to compete at the elite level nationally. Only one program, Ohio State, has won or even been to a BCS title game, and its past two appearances saw the Buckeyes come out on the losing end. Beyond the national title game, the conference has struggled in recent years to come out on the winning end of bowl games, in particular New Year's Day bowls. Coming up short on the national stage against rival conferences have left a dent in the perception of the Big Ten, which can create an obstacle in the ever-competitive arena of recruiting when battling for top talent.

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WMU reaches double digits with Prater

May, 27, 2013
Wide receiver Treevon Prater (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis) is Western Michigan's 10th commitment for 2014, multiple sources report.

Illinois State, Indiana State, Kansas and Syracuse also extended scholarship offers to the 6-foot, 179-pound prospect.

Prater registered an electronically-timed 4.82 40-yard dash, 4.47 20-yard shuttle, 30.9-inch vertical, 31-foot power throw and 69.54 SPARQ this spring at a Nike combine.

He's the second wide receiver to select the Broncos during this recruiting cycle. LaDarian Smiley (Monticello, Fla./Jefferson County), who also claims BCS offers, picked Western Michigan last month.
There aren’t too many quarterbacks who would volunteer to play both ways for their team when a starting defensive player got injured.

And even fewer who would earn All-State defensive honors during their first season on the field at safety.

But that’s what happened for Watch List quarterback Adam Bertke (Maria Stein, Ohio/Marion Local), who started the entire season playing both quarterback and safety (and even some on special teams).

“You don’t get the chance to hit people on offense,” Bertke said. “So it was a lot of fun for me.”

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Watch List TE anticipates busy spring 

January, 30, 2013
Watch List tight end Ethan Wolf (Minster, Ohio/Minster) is planning a very busy spring in the hopes that his summer is a bit lighter than last year.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to have to go through the camp circuit again,” Wolf said. “We’re trying to cram in junior days whenever we can … The schools that we can’t get to junior days, we’re going to try and get to for spring practices also. We’re really working to get to as many campuses as we can.”

Wolf holds eight offers from schools like Illinois, Indiana, Cincinnati and Pitt and is picking up more interest. This week alone, Purdue, Bowling Green, Michigan State, Ohio State, West Virginia, Indiana and Pittsburgh have visited Minster.

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Minnesota TE Scarver makes decision 

January, 15, 2013
Tight end Noah Scarver (Minneapolis/Washburn) had a favorite going into this past weekend. He took an official visit to another school, and it only reinforced his feelings.

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OG Ki-Jana Evans to Southern Illinois 

January, 7, 2013
The Southern Illinois Salukis scored a commitment from three-star offensive guard Ki-Jana Evans (Chicago/Harlan Community), according to multiple sources.

Evans turned down scholarship offers from several FBS programs, including Akron, Ball State, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Oregon State, Toledo, Western Kentucky and Western Michigan. Illinois State and Youngstown State also offered.

The 6-foot-3, 312-pound senior received additional interest from Illinois, Northern Illinois, Utah and West Virginia, among others.

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Beavers net two linebackers 

December, 26, 2012
Michael Greer (Palm Springs, Calif./Palm Springs) and Manase Hungalu (Kailu-Kona, Hawaii/Kealakehe) are both on board with Oregon State, reports.

Greer's a 6-foot-2, 195-pound prospect who also held a scholarship offer from Illinois State. Oregon State is the only program to offer to the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Hungalu.

Both players will be evaluated and graded soon by ESPN.

The Beaver have 17 commitments/signings for 2013.

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TE Troy Fumagalli says yes to Badgers 

September, 12, 2012
Senior Troy Fumagalli (Aurora, Ill./Waubonsie Valley), who was holding several non-BCS offers, received a scholarship last week from Wisconsin and committed Tuesday night to the Badgers, the Chicago Tribune reported.

"Once Wisconsin offered me it really was a no-brainer for me. They have been my favorite from very early on and I'm really excited about my decision," he said.

Ball State, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Illinois State, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Kentucky and Western Michigan were his other offers. Big Ten schools such as Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota showed interest.

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