Commentary

Plenty of talent in Big Ten country

Recruits at Chicago Nike combine eye Illinois, other area schools

Originally Published: March 17, 2009
By Jc Shurburtt | Scouts Inc.

CHICAGO -- It's no secret that Illinois has been one of the better recruiting stories nationally since the arrival of head coach Ron Zook and his staff. The Fighting Illini have been aggressive on the recruiting trail and made in-roads with talented players both in and out-of-state.

One of the examples of that is Class of 2011 running back Calvin Phillips (Momence, Ill./Momence). The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder was probably the top overall prospect at the combine in any classification and it's pretty clear who the early favorite is to land him -- the Fighting Illini.

Phillips, who rushed for 1,426 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore, showed up to the event wearing a University of Illinois sweatshirt before changing into his Nike gear to compete. If his attire did not hint at where he is leaning early, his comments following the combine certainly did.

"(Illinois) is probably where I am going," he said. "I've liked them since I was a little kid. I just like their school and the way (Zook) is. If they mess up, he gets on them for real. Their program was going good for some time and then they had some downfall. But most of the athletes that go there are real good."

Phillips had an outstanding combine as well, putting up excellent testing numbers that included a 35.3-inch vertical leap. He plans to camp at Illinois this summer.

"Basically I am trying to improve more and more and to get out there and improve on what I did last year next year," he said.

Wildcats in on Herring

Jumbo athlete Warren Herring (Belleville, Ill./Belleville East) holds a scholarship offer from Kansas State as a defensive end and is getting looks from several other schools, including Louisville, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Vanderbilt and Illinois are among the other programs to show Herring attention

"Kansas State is is recruiting me as a defensive end," he said. "So that's good. I hope I have a few more next year, my senior year."

And it's obvious Herring is interested in K-State.

"They are going through a rebuilding phase and that's a good thing because I want to be a part of it," said Herring, who had 10 sacks last year. "It's a good program. (Wildcats head coach) Bill Snyder is a good coach and I know a couple of the players that go there and they should be looking pretty good."

2010 class notes

• Athlete Jamison Wilson (Country Club Hills, Ill./Hillcrest) is getting attention from a number of Big Ten programs, plus Ball State and Louisville and is open to most schools. Programs will possibly start taking a look at the 5-10, 173-pounder as a strong safety. He plays outside linebacker for his high school team, but in their system plays a lot of man-to-man coverage and has excelled in it. He had 75 tackles last season.

• Running back Brandon Bourbon (Potosi, Mo./Potosi) is getting looks from several programs and should have his first scholarship offer soon. Oklahoma, Northwestern and Missouri are among the schools that he has visited unofficially.

• Running back Giorggio Bowers (Olympia Fields, Ill./Rich Central) is getting attention from UCLA, Vanderbilt, Michigan State and Purdue, but has no offers. Bowers has made three unofficial visits to Purdue and would like an offer from the Boilermakers. He's also visited Illinois and Michigan State. Cincinnati and Louisville are also schools he's interested in.

• Bowers' teammate, cornerback Deonte Jackson has visited Purdue and Northwestern unofficially and is interested in those two programs. "I like the coaches at Purdue and the academic program at Northwestern. Northwestern is real close to home, too." Jackson also is waiting on his first scholarship offer.

• Sleeper defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Jr. (Chicago/Saint Rita of Cascia) says that Iowa, Arizona, Michigan State and Notre Dame are showing interest. He has no current offers.

• Another big sleeper, offensive lineman Sidney Scott (Hammond, Ind./Hammond) is looking for his first scholarship offer. The 6-5, 282-pounder could end up being a steal for some team out there in need of line help, as long as his film checks out.

• Athlete B.J. Hendrix (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township) is getting attention from Ball State. Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and several Pac-10 schools also are sending letters. He has no offers.

Rickey Simpson (Aurora, Ill./Waubonsie Valley) is getting looks from Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, Central Michigan, Purdue and others. His attention has come in the form of letters thus far. He could develop into a Mid-American Conference prospect or perhaps even the Big Ten, depending on his film. He currently has no offers.

• Athletes Ben and Antonio Hutchins (Portage, Mich./Portage North) are getting looks from UCLA, Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Neither have any official offers yet, but feel confident some are forthcoming. Both had good days at the combine.

• Running back Kevin Starke (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) says that Cincinnati, Purdue and Michigan State are showing him interest. He has no offers.

• Athlete Phil Schmidt (Lisle, Ill./Benet Academy) says that Cincinnati, Northwestern and Stanford have een sending him letters and he recently got mail from Notre Dame. He has no offers.

• Northern Illinois is showing interest in quarterback/athlete Jonathan Wolf (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest). He has no offers.

• Running back/defensive back Travis Mullen (Normal, Ill./Normal Community) is getting attention from Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Iowa, Arizona and Illinois. He has no offers.

• Linebacker Ben Eskelsen (St. Louis, Mo./Parkway West) has no offers, but has made unofficial visits to Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and Missouri.

• Western Michigan and Cincinnati, among others, have been showing athlete Jordan Beachnau (Holt, Mich./Holt) early attention. He has no offers.

2011 class notes

• Defensive tackle Clint Tucker (East Saint Louis, Ill./East Saint Louis) says that he likes Florida early because the Gators "run a 4-3 defense" and said he's open to any school that runs a 4-3. He also specifically mentioned that Penn State, Tulsa and Minnesota were schools that had his interest. The 6-1, 270-pounder had 85 tackles last year and ran a 4.82 shuttle on Sunday.

• Two-way lineman Joel Hale (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) says that he is interested in Illinois and most of the Big Ten, along with Texas.

• Another East Saint Louis prospect, receiver Keante Minor, said he was interested in North Carolina, Kansas and Illinois early.

• Defensive end Damon Knox (Muskegon, Mich./Muskegon) likes Michigan and Michigan State and plans to camp at Michigan this summer.

• Running back Mika'il McCall (Chicago, Ill./Thornridge) likes most of the programs in the Southeastern Conference, Ohio State and Southern California.

• Defensive end/fullback Johnathan Green (Milwaukee, Wisc. /West Allis Hills) is interested in most of the Big Ten programs.

JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at jcsespn@aol.com.