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Three-star recruit Reuben Unije commits to Illinois

This raw lineman has rare potential.

Twitter: @RUnije

Unije commits to Illinois

Three-star recruit Reuben Unije committed to Illinois football on Sunday afternoon.

Unije, a 6-foot-5, 303-pound offensive tackle from Bradenton, Florida’s IMG Academy, announced his commitment via a tweet.

He took a visit to Illinois on Dec. 8 and called said “Champaign felt at home” in a tweet.

Unije had offers from Southeastern Conference schools like Tennessee and Ole Miss, but he chose Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini.

Illinois safeties coach Donnie Abraham coached at Unije’s IMG Academy before taking the job at Illinois in February.

Unije is the 16th prep commit in Illinois football’s 2018 class, and he is the fifth member of the offensive line. Fifteen of the 16 commits are three-star (or lower) recruits, according to 247sports, with Texas defensive tackle Calvin Avery being the only four-star commit.

So, is he good?

When a sculptor starts a project, they’re already constrained by the raw materials. If you’re an artist that works in wood, you’re going to fall short of a similar artist that works in marble. That’s a pretty weird analogy, but it makes sense. The end result of your project has a ceiling predetermined by the raw materials.

Take Reuben Unije for example, a mammoth offensive lineman from IMG Academy. Unije, although gargantuan and astonishingly nimble for his size, is a project. He hasn’t played football long enough to pick up the nuances, and because of this, his on the field play is extremely tough to rate.

From his film you’ll see the highest highs and some inconsistent footwork and finishes — and that’s on a highlight film. Is the variety a sign that he’s learning the game on the fly, possessing incredible strength and athleticism prior to mastering the intricacies or playing the line, or is this the type of player he’s going to be.

Offensive line has the toughest transition from high school to college, so in turn it’s the toughest to scout. It’s why you can have a 3-star come in and start from day 1, and you can have a 4-star come in and fizzle out. The huge man in a small pond can dominate the tiny high school lineman and look like Orlando Pace in the process. But what happens the first time someone as strong and much quicker comes flying around that corner and pops them in the mouth? That’s up for debate.

Now that you’re done watching the film, two things should pop out at you.

  1. He’s huge and built like a tight end, even though he’s over 300 pounds. This is why he originally received offers from schools like Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, etc. Being at IMG Academy opened a lot of recruiting doors and when a kid like this steps onto the practice field in his Under Armour, he’s going to draw a lot of eyes.
  2. He is thinking through the game, and that’s gotta stop. A player with this type of athletic ability needs the mastery down to a point that his gifts take over, and that takes years and years of practice. He hasn’t had enough yet. You can see Unije standing up out of his stance instead of exploding forward. You can see his upper body leading the way into the second level instead of keeping the power low and driving. These are all correctable habits — they just have to be corrected, and it’s going to take TIME.

You’re going to read a lot of people on Twitter pencilling him into the starting lineup on Day 1. If you see that, make a mental note that he/she probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Instead, if you trust Coach Butkus, imagine a player unleashed in their redshirt junior season that is able to come in and seamlessly take over one of the tackle positions.

College scouts are used to looking at someone of Unije stature and then fighting tooth and nail for his services. This is the opposite. yes, he’s a prospect of marble that has all the raw material to come in and develop into a future first day draft pick. He also is extremely hard to scout and is just too risky for the Oklahoma’s of the world (which is Illinois’ great fortune).