Looks Like University Of Illinois - Antwon Hayden
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When I let someone choose the random order for the LLUOI articles I needed to write, the order chosen had Kaden Feagin second. So I knocked that one out in April and then kept moving through the 2022 recruits. As we added transfers, I put them on the bottom of the list. As we added 2023 recruits, I put them on the very bottom of the list. I've now plowed through 12 LLUOI articles (finishing the 2022 recruits/transfers), and there are now... 12 names on the list. Something something bathtubs and the drain open with the water turned on.
- Gabe Jacas
- Kaden Feagin
- Tyson Rooks
- Xavier Scott
- Matthew Bailey
- Elijah McCantos
- Isaiah Adams
- Naivyan Cargill
- Raashaan Wilkins
- Terrell Jennings
- Dylan Davis
- Jonah Morris
- Antwon Hayden
- TJ McMillen
- Zachary Aamland
- Rico Jackson
- Pat Farrell
- Jamarrion Harkless
- Cal Swanson
- David Olano
- Jaheim Clarke
- Mason Muragin
- Calvin Smith
- TJ Lott
As I'm going through The 90 Illini I see some of the "old version" LLUOI articles and I think about going back to that. Those were 90-minutes to write, not 5+ hours, and it would certainly help me get caught up. But then I think about why I made the switch and I resolve to stick to this plan. That reasoning, if you're not aware...
We are in the era of "BOOM!" right now. The skill (and overall rating/offers) of a player picking Illinois are no longer evaluated. It's just "BOOM!!! 3-star lineman picks Illinois!!" and that's that. Everyone is good. Every player is exactly what we need. A deal was struck between the fans (who inherently want to know that we'll be good in the future) and the media/bloggers (who inherently want the fans' subscription money) that was mutually beneficial to both: you provide the clicks, we'll provide the "BOOM!"
I personally hate it (like, HATE it) because it's killed my ability to BOOM when there's a legitimate BOOM. As a fan myself, I use to love spotting wolves and screaming about it on Twitter. I lost my damn mind running around screaming "wolf!" when Ayo committed. But now at least five people cry wolf when a kicker commits, and so nobody really believes there's a wolf anymore. I hate it, but it's where we're at now. People who were laughed off of Twitter in 2015 for sports misinformation are now embraced. Hopefully it's a phase, but if not, my extinction clock has begun.
The only response I can come up with is to A) continue rating players between 0.5 and 5.0 on a scale that's easier to understand than "2% are five-stars, 15% are four-stars, and 83% are three-stars" and B) expand my research and analysis of each recruit. Yes, I totally and completely understand that if I want to, you know, build subscribers, I should BOOM, write 400 glowing words, and move on. But I didn't quit my day job to BOOM. I left my job to follow my teams like a groupie. And then write about it.
And now I embark on my analysis of the 2023 class. I wrote one of the LLUOI articles already (on Kaden Feagin). Next is Antwon Hayden (who committed in late March), followed by TJ McMillen (who committed on May 21st), followed by everyone else (who all committed in the last 30 days). I should be caught up by the end of July. Please note the "should" there.
(Fun fact: I wrote the above just before my granddaughter was born a month early. Which has thrown my entire July into flux. A flux that I love, but a flux nonetheless.)
I'm somewhat glad that I haven't gotten to Hayden's article until now. Because in the last month, he's shown to have a skill that I might not have realized had I written this in March: recruiting. There's always that one guy who spearheads recruiting from the player end (Dre Brown was that guy, Marquez Beason was that guy). For this class, at least from what we can see on Twitter, it's clearly Antwon Hayden.
That's just a side thought, though. One does not earn additional Cruises from being the guy who gets everyone together in a group chat. This is an evaluation of a football player. And I should probably start with the measureables.
High School: East St. Louis Senior HS, East St. Louis, Illinois
Height/Weight: 6'-2", 235 lbs.
Five Best Offers: Western Michigan, Arkansas State, Toledo, Central Michigan, Buffalo
My first thought (and remember, I do these blind so you're learning what I think as I learn what I think) is that 235 = OLB when he gets here. If he's a legit 6'-2" (Rivals says 6'-3", 220 lbs; 247 says 6'-2", 235 lbs), then yes, I think he's headed for EDGE and not ILB. If there's a continuum between WLB and strongside EDGE for the four "linebackers" in this defense, and we refer to WLB as "A", MLB as "B", weakside EDGE as "C", and strongside EDGE as "D", then I'd say Hayden fits in between B and C (but much closer to C). If he's really 6'-3" and he can bulk up, maybe he ends up between C and D.
Actually, I should probably say that the steps go Mike and then WLB (which is WLB in some spots and SLB in other spots) and then smaller EDGE and then bigger EDGE. When the staff would walk Khalan Tolson up to the line last year he was definitely the "bigger/stronger" linebacker in the pairing but wasn't the Mike. Maybe I've made my point here and the distinction is meaningless. That point: first glance at Hayden says more Seth Coleman than Tarique Barnes.
The fact that we were his only P5 offer is a bit concerning. When you commit in March of your junior season, you haven't seen your full offer list yet, but still, this is one of the most visible high school programs in the state and many of his teammates had multiple P5 offers in March. Not a big deal, just a data point.
OK, let's take a look at the film. Let me make a few gifs and I'll be back.
Man oh man. I need to start with the call the official makes on this play. It's one of those "I've always wanted to call one of those" calls. I've talked about this before with officials marking a player down at the one foot line. Go to any random high school game and if there's a tackle near the goal line, the official will mark him down one foot short. Even if he was tackled three yards into the endzone. There is SUCH a desire among high school officials to say "yeah, most might have think that he scored, but I saw the knee hit just before he crossed the goal line." (You didn't.)
Here, this official has been dying - DYING - to make the "I saw the arm going forward - that's an incomplete pass" call. This is beyond a fumble. But that white hat has been dreaming about claiming to see an arm going forward for years.
What an insane call. Doesn't even get his arm fully back. (Unless there's some HS rule where the arm doesn't have to be going forward or something.)
(Great full-speed play by Hayden, though. A great read-and-react. The very moment the receiver starts his reverse, Hayden is after him.)
(Horrible, HORRIBLE call, though.)
This next one simply shows Hayden (#21) being more outside linebackery than inside linebackery.
Two things in that clip (for me):
- There's one thing I always point out with defensive linemen - the offense knows the play; the defense does not. That right tackle in front of him might go into a passrush stance, he might pull right, he might charge forward. When unblocked, the offense is saying "we're running left, so leave the DE on that end unblocked because the tailback will get through the hole before the DE can identify the play and get there." He immediately identifies the play and gets there.
- Watch the linebacker (not OLB - the actual linebacker) on the other side of the field in the play above. The guy standing on the blue circle at the snap. I don't know his name. I just wanted to point out that if Antwon Hayden had that body type, I'd expect him to be an inside linebacker. Antwon Hayden looks like the DE on the near side (because it is Antwon Hayden), so I expect him to be an OLB.
To the next clip. In the rain at Edwardsville.
I wish the film was better (like, wasn't in the rain and didn't happen far from the camera at the 50). Because this is just a fantastic play. He stays wide and establishes that left foot on the edge. At this point, that tailback has to dip inside behind the pulling guard and go heads-up with the inside linebacker, but Hayden has that edge so fast that the tailback tries to run around him and gets eaten alive. In college, the Iowa tailback will know this play and dip inside. But here, Hayden just keeps shuffling and establishing and the tailback is down before he knows what's happening.
One more thought about his film. There's some offensive plays on there as well as these defensive plays, and he reminds me of Josh McCray. Remember how I was all "there's no WAY Josh McCray will be a running back in college - this looks like a defensive end"? Well, this is the same kind of athlete... who will be a defensive end (outside linebacker). McCray is something like 245 right now, and I feel like Hayden's eventual playing weight is somewhere right around there. Isaiah Gay last season: 6'-3", 245 lbs. Antwon Hayden in a few years - probably right around that 245 mark. And playing the Isaiah Gay position.
So I feel like this is a really solid fit for this defense. A bit unheralded because of the early commitment. I have a good sense where I'm going with these Cruises so let's just get to them before I overthink it.
Antwon Hayden - Two and three-quarters Tom Cruises