With National Signing Day quickly approaching, the 2014 football class is all but set. The class sits at seventeen commitments, currently, with eighteen spots to fill. I'll say we end up with seventeen when it's all said and done. Of course, football recruiting is very fluid. The staff could easily add or lose someone before February 5th. This class is fairly small compared to most years, but the team returns a ton of players on both sides of the ball. The available spots just aren't there.
Of the seventeen verbals, six are from the junior college ranks. Seven players have enrolled early for this current semester to get a head start. Three of those players are junior college transfers. Perfect opportunity to start the class preview with the JUCOs. Tim Beckman and staff are again going the JUCO route to find immediate help at positions of need in the 2014 class.
Here is an informative announcement from FightingIllini.com on the early enrollees - NOTE that Tyree Stone-Davis did not end up making his way to campus for this semester. His twin brother, Tyrin, did, and Tyree is now expected to enroll in the summer.
To be clear, junior college rankings are not the most reliable from one recruiting site to another. If you look at the Rivals JUCO Top 50 list (the list goes to 100), the Illini have verbals from three of the top 75 JUCO recruits in the country: 3-star CB Tyree Stone-Davis at No. 49, 3-star DT Jihad Ward at No. 62, and 3-star WR Geronimo Allison at No. 72.
Tyrin Stone-Davis doesn't make the list on Rivals, but 247Sports has him as a 3-star WR and the No. 9 overall JUCO WR recruit (he was ranked as high as No. 2), six spots ahead of Geronimo Allison.
Scout rates Jihad Ward as a 4-star DE while Rivals and 247Sports list him as a 3-star DT.
What does this all mean? Not a whole lot. The recruiting scouts and analysts spend a good majority of their time watching games and film on high school players. There just isn't as much information out there on the junior college players. The big boys of college football also value scholarships to incoming freshmen more so than to junior college players - mostly because they already have tremendous depth at every position, and they have the benefit of developing players in their systems. So don't take JUCO recruiting rankings whole heartedly. However, it's nice to see that Illinois is signing guys that seem to be highly touted.
One more side note before I get started: because the football class is not official yet, there's no point spending significant time talking about where they'll end up on the depth chart until after the class is announced.
We'll tackle the analyzing, statistics, and predictions after signing day. For now, let's look at each JUCO verbal commitment, starting with the four signings.
Tyrin Stone-Davis: 6-foot-3, 195 lbs, Pierce C.C., Woodland Hills, CA
Scout: 3-star WR
Rivals: 3-star ATH
247Sports: 3-star WR
We out-courted San Diego St. and Texas Tech for Tyrin's services.
Tyrin, the first of the twins Stone-Davis to commit to Beckman, fills an immediate need at the WR position. We lose a ton of WR production from last year (Steve Hull!), and Tyrin adds great size and speed for Wes Lunt or Aaron Bailey to throw the ball to.
Tyree Stone-Davis: 6-foot-3, 200 lbs, Piece C.C., Woodland Hills, CA
Scout: 2-star CB
Rivals: 3-star DB
247Sports: 3-star DB
Hawaii, San Diego St., and Texas State all invited Tyree to the dance, but he decided to go with the Illini.
Tyree verballed to the Illini two days after his brother. I think the team is already solid at corner back with V'Angelo Bentley, Darius Moseley, Earnest Thomas III, and Jaylen Dunlap all returning. We certainly struggled at times last year on the back end, though, so expect Tyree to get a shot at one of the safety positions.
Geronimo Allison: 6-foot-3, 190 lbs, Iowa Western C.C., Council Bluffs, IA
Scout: 3-star WR
Rivals: 3-star WR
247Sports: 3-star WR
Geronimo (great name by the way) picked the Illini over FAU, Iowa St., Louisiana Tech, Ohio U, and Utah St.
As mentioned with Tyrin Stone-Davis, WR is a major need. Geronimo also brings more size and ball skills to our current crop of ball catchers.
Joe Fotu: 6-foot-3, 275 lbs, Laney C.C., Oakland, CA
Scout: 2-star DT
Rivals: Not Ranked DE
247Sports: 3-star DE
California and ASU had interest but did not offer big Joe. He ended up picking the Illini over New Mexico.
Again, there isn't much information on the big fella from Oakland. Tanks rolled through some of the holes that opened on the d-line last year, so he'll add immediate depth which can't hurt.
Jihad Ward: 6-foot-7, 285 lbs, Globe Academy, New York, NY
Scout: 4-star DE
Rivals: 3-star DT
247Sports: 3-star DT
Jihad also had offers from Iowa St., South Florida, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Washington, and West Virginia. That's a quality list.
Jihad might end up being the crown jewel of this class - JUCO or not. Our run defense was basically non existent last year. Whether Jihad ends up playing on the inside or outside of the defensive line, he adds a huge body and some much needed talent to the depth pool. Let's hope he stays true to his word and signs.
Carroll Phillips: 6-foot-4, 245 lbs, Copiah-Lincoln C.C., Woodland Hills, CA
Scout: 2-star DE
Rivals: NR DE
247: 2-star OLB
Carroll's notable offers were from Cincinnati, Memphis, and Southern Miss, but he's pledged his allegiance to the Iliini. What position he ends up at remains to be seen: DE or LB. He'll bring speed to either position group, though.
So there we have it - the current crop of JUCOs. Becks is still waiting on both Ward and Phillips to sign. Each is expected to follow through.
Every year, there seems to be a last minute surprise. Although not a junior college transfer, Paul James comes to mind from last year. Is there a JUCO shocker out there this year? I doubt it. If anything (be aware that I am totally speculating here) keep an eye on 3-star LB Vin Ascolese. We were in it to win it with him until the end two years ago. He ultimately signed with Arkansas, never made it to campus, and went the JUCO route. We're back on his list, but I believe this ship has sailed.
As you can see, the staff has worked tirelessly to add instant depth at WR and on the d-line - the team's biggest position concerns for next year. I really like the size that the JUCO WRs bring to the offense. I'll feel a lot better about the defensive line help from the junior college transfers if Jihad Ward does, in fact, sign as he should.
Next week, we'll take a look at the incoming freshman on the offensive side of the ball.
G-O, Illini GO!
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