New Commit: Since this is the first version of the Pigskin Crootin’ Roundup, I’ll address the most recent commit alone. In the future I’d like to extend this to any recent commits within a two-week time period, which should allow for some boring periods of nothingness during the season combined with some amazing flips and closes come signing day. The newest addition to Lovie’s 2018 class is offensive lineman Braeden Daniels out of Hebron High School in the talent-rich state of Texas, which recently started paying dividends to the Illini.
Who did we beat? Boise State, Memphis, Houston, Utah
First Take: The first thing that jumps out about Daniels is that in his junior year film, he looks slim for his 6-4 frame. Daniels (G/T) is listed as low as 240 pounds on some recruiting sites. Flash forward only nine months and Daniels is said to be around 280 pounds, and that seems like a good weight via recent pictures posted to social media.
Second Take: Daniels tends to pop up out of his stance instead of driving low and burying his man off the ball. The good news is that once he’s on someone, he has active leg drive and doesn’t stop his feet until the defender is down or the whistle has blown.
In summation: Daniels is the type of lineman that Lovie & Co. need to stockpile and develop in order to build the road-grading unit they envision. The loss of Howard Watkins and Darta Lee makes nabbing a few guys like Daniels imperative to the success of this class.
The Apple of My Eye: Also hailing from the great state of Texas is four-star defensive tackle Calvin Avery, the highest ranked recruit of the Lovie era and the highest since Ron Zook was patrolling the sidelines. Avery is the type of kid that lifts your program from day one because mediocre football teams can surprise people when they dominate the trenches.
Extending out through the 2019 season, Illinois probably isn’t going to be beat people with better skilled position players, at least not with the people on the current roster or committed in the current class. But, what I do see is a definite talent shift on the defensive line, and that’s the great equalizer. After Avery has had a year in the program to get his feet wet and a year in the weight room to harden up, I promise this kid is going to be the difference in a few games by collapsing the line and making life a nightmare for an opposing quarterback.
The Steal: Another offensive lineman from Texas, Kievan Myers, is (so far) the steal of the class. Illinois snuck up to beat some successful programs (Arizona, Baylor, Missouri, Texas Tech) for Myers, but even that collection doesn’t speak to the potential of this mammoth road-grader. This kid is just starting to absorb his athleticism and connect the neuron gaps throughout his frame and Illinois was smart to close the deal before he played out his senior season, especially with other stud teammates bringing in the blue bloods of college football. Oh, and Myers’ relationship with Illinois played a large part in getting a commitment from teammate Calvin Avery. (Side note: Illinois needs to keep recruiting these kids until the fax comes through the machine, or this article won’t age well.)
The Dream: This one’s easy. It’s Luke Ford from Southern Illinois. The 6-6 Gronk clone has been offered by just about anyone, but he feels a pull to his home state university up the road in Champaign. Does that mean he’ll eventually end up in the Orange and Blue? Probably not. It’s really hard to tell Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh to take a hike in favor of a team coming off a three-win season, but that’s why this is the dream. Ford could start from day one in Illinois and become the face of the rebuild. Is that enough to sway him to turn down the monsters of college football?