The 90 Illini - 85 ~ 81

Jun 11, 2017

With the second installment of the series, we cross over into scholarship players for the first time. The 90~86 list was all walkons - now you'll start to see freshmen entering the list. And if you're a freshman and you're this far down on the list, it means I'm putting you in the "redshirt and get stronger" pile.

But that doesn't mean these freshmen can't come into camp and grab a spot in the two-deep. I think I had Evan Wilson #88 on The 90 Illini and then was our starting tight end in 2010. So there will always be surprises. But for now, here's the players I rank from 85 to 81.

85. Jimmy Marchese

6'-2", 215 lbs
Sophomore (walkon, 3 years to play 3)
Stevenson High School / Vernon Hills, Illinois

What I Know About Him

Marchese comes from a walkon family. His dad was a walkon at Iowa. His brother Joe walked on at Mayland in 2013. He walked on at Illinois in 2015. His twin brothers, Henry and Michael, were both 2017 recruits, with Michael choosing to walk on at Illinois this coming fall and Henry breaking family tradition and getting a scholarship at his father's program (Iowa).

All of the brothers played at Stevenson High School, with Jimmy being part of the 2014 state championship team. Now, they're spread across the Big Ten from Maryland to Illinois to Iowa.

What I Expect From Him

Marchese was a difficult player to rank. Last year, as a reshirt freshman walkon, he forced his way onto some of the special teams coverage units, a walkon pushing past some of the scholarship players. That would seem to indicate that he might take the special teams route to playing time (like Nate Echard did, eventually earning a scholarship and starting as the fullback last year and this year).

But how should I rank a guy like that with the coach bringing in his first (large) recruiting class? Will Lovie turn to a sophomore walkon like Marchese for those special teams spots or might he go with one of his scholarship freshmen? I could see Marchese much higher on this list or I could see him lower.

My goal for him, I think, is to end up like Echard. Backup linebacker and special teams guy becomes blocking fullback who eventually earns a scholarship. Echard (converted linebacker) is the fullback this year. Austin Roberts (converted linebacker) is his backup this year and will likely be the starter next year. Why not move Marchese to fullback so he can start there in 2019?

84. Cam Miller

6'-1", 205 lbs.
Redshirt Freshman (walkon, 4 years to play 4)
Brother Rice High School / Evergreen Park, Illinois

What I Know About Him

Talk about a crazy journey. Miller finds out he has a walkon spot last year in early August and scrambles to pack and move down to Champaign for training camp. He's walking on as a running back (he was a quarterback at Brother Rice), but when Jimmy Fitzgerald leaves the program, another arm is needed so Miller moves to QB after only a few practices at running back.

And then, when Crouch and Lunt go down with injuries, he's this vital arm at practice and the third-string QB on the depth chart (behind Jeff George Jr. and converted DB Trenard Davis). This spring, I'm guessing his arm nearly fell off from all the passes he had to throw at practice.

What I Expect From Him

That's pretty much the extent of things - camp arm. If we ever fill the roster at QB I'm guessing he goes back to being a walkon tailback. But for now, we need a lot of passes from him.

Which is a pretty good way to go through college. Malik Turner needs to get better? Be a specific part of Malik Turner getting better by throwing balls to him every practice so he can work on his hands/routes/cuts/etc.

83. Jamal Woods

Defensive Lineman
6'-3", 245 lbs.
True Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
Hueytown High School / Hueytown, Alabama

What I Know About Him

Woods was the defensive lineman we flipped from Memphis just before signing day. We needed numbers, and we struck out on a few of our higher-end targets, so we turned to the fringe P5 list (players right on the line between "is definitely a Power Five Conference player" and "might be better suited for the Group Of Five conferences.) There's talent to be found on that fringe, and hopefully we found some in Woods.

He arrives as a defensive end recruit but I listed him as "defensive lineman" above because I think he eventually moves inside. We brought in seven freshman defensive ends, and I think five will stay at DE and two will move to DT. Put me down for Woods being one of the two.

What I Expect From Him

I have him down as a definite redshirt. I'm thinking this is a high school DE who projects as a high school DT, which means he will need two things:

  1. Learn how to play defensive tackle. It's a whole lotta different than playing defensive end.
  2. Add weight and strength and then a little more weight. That's probably a 24 month process with the strenght staff. Given that all freshmen are due on campus today, that 24 months begins right... now.

82. Christian Bobak

Running Back
6'-0", 190 lbs.
Redshirt Freshman (walkon, 4 years to play 4)
Hinsdale Central High School / Hinsdale, Illinois

What I Know About Him

Bobak was the "hey, this kid can play a little bit" walkon I noticed at training camp last year. We were thin on running backs, so he got into the rotation quite a bit.

He's another one of those scholarship kid/walkon kid deals I talked about in the last post (lots of times preferred walkons are the high school teammate of an incoming scholarship freshman, like Marc Mondesir and Jake Stover). Bobak played high school football with scholarship offensive lineman Doug Kramer. I'm not saying they're BFF's or anything - just that it often works out like that.

What I Expect From Him

It's a long hill to climb if he wants to get on the field. This fall, Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin are the top two backs, with lots of competition (Dre Brown back from knee surgery, incoming freshman Mike Epstein, incoming freshman Ra'Von Bonner, returning sophomore Tre Nation).

That's a lot of scholarship players to climb over and find some playing time. Like most walkons, it's doubtful he'll ever find the field. But hey, this kid can play a little bit.

81. James Knight

5'-10", 195 lbs.
True Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
East St. Louis High School / East St. Louis, Illinois

What I Know About Him

Jimmy Jam! I know that his high school nickname was Jimmy Jam and I'm hoping it sticks with him through college. It's his Twitter handle, so hopefully it's a thing. Such a baller nickname - Jimmy Jam.

He had quite a senior year in college. At the start, the St. Louis Post Dispatched picked him #30 on their list of the 30 best high school football players in the St. Louis area. By the end, he was #2 and their Defensive Player of the Year. He had a huge season for East St. Louis (leading to a state title) and rocketed up the local rankings.

What I Expect From Him

If he was 4" taller, I'd be telling you he's a future college superstar. His film is so much fun to watch - a little grenade going around blowing people up. The kid every high school coach loves because he can't stop tackling people.

But because he's only 5'-9"-ish, the questions will always be there - big enough to play college football? I guess there's a chance he's a strong safety walked up to the line of scrimmage, but I'm not sure he has the speed for that. On film, he looks and plays like a linebacker. Which means he'll probably be a college linebacker. How good can you be at that size? We shall see.


Bear8287 on June 11 @ 10:46 PM CDT

Jimmy Jam

He had quite a senior year in college.

We're sure hoping so. ;-)

Oh, one request. Could you also include your LLUOI Tom Cruise ratings for these guys?

Robert on June 12 @ 10:39 AM CDT

I don't have a full set yet. I started doing Tom Cruises in the middle of the 2014 recruiting class, so guys like Foster, DiLauro, Allegretti, Crawford, Dudek, etc. were never rated. And I can't really go back and rate them now.

As I said last year, starting in 2018, I'll start including Cruise rankings.

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