Prater and others help put this year's class in Illinois on the map
When we were doing our rankings the first time around and making the decision to put Proviso West wide receiver Kyle Prater at five-stars and one of the top two receivers in the country, the question was asked "when was the last time the top receiver was from Illinois?" It has been awhile, and I don't know the exact answer, but I thought back through my mental rolodex of names. Recently, the state has had four-star receivers like Brandon Green and Jason Avant, but the last time one of the very best in the country was catching passes in the Land of Lincoln may have been Tai Streets, who was a three-sport star at Harvey Thornton before signing with Michigan and going on to play in the NFL.
No matter what the history, Prater is a rarity for the state and the nation. His height, route running, incredible ball skills and maybe above all, his character and work ethic all add up into the total package. I've heard comparisons to all of the NFL's best, with names like Moss and Fitzgerald being thrown around. We cannot know now if he will achieve what those players have, but Prater does combine elements of them in his game. As he rises through the college ranks, I'm sure I will think back to the day he committed each time I watch him on television. The entire school turned out. It was a spectacle for a school not accustomed to having an athlete recruited to the highest level. Every faculty member and adminstrator
spoke glowingly of him. It was all genuine and none of it had to do with catching passes. As rare as his football ability is, what he is off the field is just as impressive and that has made him a joy to cover. Of course, opposing defensive backs would not say the same.
Prater was just one Illinois recruit who was selected into an All-Star game and was a national level recruit. Palatine Fremd offensive lineman Christian Lombard impressed the Scout.com staff at the Army Game and Corey Cooper did the same at the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl. Johnsburg tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, another Army Bowl participant, is a four-star and one of the top players at his position in the country. The last time the state had a tight end rated that highly was Tony Moeaki, from Wheaton Warrenville South who went on to star at Iowa, where Fiedorowicz is headed.
Where these players are ranked may be a surprise, here's why
Matt Milton (5) - I think Milton may be one of those guys, on a national level, where a few years from now, people will be wondering where he came from. That answer would be Mascoutah and because the school is a little tucked away on the west side of the state, he slipped under the national radar some. Put on the tape though and it is obvious he has some serious skills. 6'6 with exceptional speed, body control and leaping ability, he has a chance to become a major force at Tennessee.
Chandler Whitmer (6) - There are mixed reviews as to where he should be ranked. I understand the naysayers can point to his size and lack of earth shattering arm strength. I've seen enough quarterbacks overcome those things with smarts and accuracy to know Whitmer has a good chance for college success. He's going to a good situation at Illinois too, where he won't be pressed into action right away. I do know he will work hard and he will make good decisions and deliver the ball where it needs to go.
De'Ron Flood (9) / Sean Robinson (13) - Purdue will find lots of ways to use the athletic Flood in the passing game. I think he'll be a fantastic weapon for them. Robinson, even as I look at this, may still be a tad lower than he should be. He is a wonderful athlete with great size and as a senior, I thought he really threw the ball well.
Bruce Gaston - I love his potential. I don't think he has even scratched the surface of capitalizing on it yet. Once his on-field production matches his talent, I think he'll really make an impact at Purdue.
Chance Carter - See Gaston. Carter has great, great talent, but I think some of the guys above him have just done it more on the field. If we were ranking purely based on athletic gifts and upside, he would be higher.
Laken Tomlinson - He's just a big, strong kid that will probably move inside to guard and be effective for Duke. He may not be super athletic, but he can be a road grader type. Zach Fulton, a Tennessee commit is very similar in this regard.
Jimmie Hunt - Was hidden a little at Cahokia, but he's a fantastic athlete that can go up and get the ball. He'll do well in Missouri's offense.
Haven't heard much about these guys? You will soon.
Mark Lenkiewicz - I liked his athleticism, but I liked the way he finished people even more. He'll just need to full out more, but he could play nearly any spot on the line for Minnesota.
Matt Perez - He could end up being a starter at Illinois, I really like the way he runs tough, hard and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Gregory McKee - Those who followed the Chicago Public League knew all about him already. At 6'8, 295-lbs with solid athleticism, if he keep developing, McKee is a guy who could end up in the pros.
LaSteven McKinney - Jamel Martin and McKinney are both going to the MAC (Bowling Green and Central Michigan respectively) and I believe both have what it takes to be starters and impact players there. McKinney is an incredible open field runner and Martin has a good blend of size and speed.
Mike Perish - He had an awesome senior season and people who have seen him play think he could have a major impact at Western Michigan.
Assessing the State
A final word on Illinois
I could have gone 100 deep on these rankings. The state was full of great talent yet again. There are some kids outside these rankings who have had great high school careers and will be effective college players. A kid like Jason Jozaites going to Northwest Missouri State or Brandon Pechloff, likely a 1-AA player, have chances to make impacts playing at lower levels. As usual, there were plenty of linemen to be found and it was good to see guys like Jeffrey Brown, Fabbian Ebelle and Tory Squires pick up FBS offers late. As I look ahead into future years, it is clear that the state will continue to be strong. It was also good to see a couple kids from the Chicago Public League get picked up late.