Readers Ted Terry and Wendy Peffercorn were eager to respond to our recent blog about the state of Illinois high school football, the fact that only five products were listed among the top 250 players in the nation according to preseason college magazines. They made some interesting points. But we need to correct the record.
Terry argued that the Chicago area isn't overlooked, just overrated, claiming not as many kids are playing football today, the Public League "has dried up," the Catholic League isn't what it used to be, the talent isn't very good, there is no speed and only an average skill level compared to warm weather states.
"How many true national recruits does Chicago produce?" Terry asked. "Name an all-star team since 1990 and it is embarrassing."
Peffercorn pointed out, quite correctly, that the Illinois High School Association puts Illinois football players at a disadvantage by not offering spring practice as most of the major football-producing states do. She even notes that many of those southern states also offer spring football at the junior high school level and promote power lifting for young athletes.
Yes, Illinois is a basketball state. A lot of kids who could be outstanding prospects as running backs, wide receivers or defensive backs prefer basketball to football. Illiois could be better in football. Probably much better than it is. But it isn't as bad as some critics claim it is. Check the facts.
The Public League wasn't a good producer of football talent in the 1980s and the Catholic League isn't what it used to be when St. Laurence, Mendel, Gordon Tech, St. Rita, Mount Carmel, Fenwick, Weber and Leo annually shipped scholarship players to college powerhouses across the country.
But 48 former Chicago area players currently are playing in the NFL, more than any other metropolitan region outside of Los Angeles. College coaches still rank Illinois among the top football-producing states in the country--behind Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and perhaps New Jersey.
From a high water mark of 141 scholarship players in the class of 1986, which included Russell Maryland, Jeff Alm, Tim Grunhard, John Foley, Brad Quast, Bobby Wilson, Paul Justin, Chris Calloway, Mel Agee and Paul Glonek, the Chicago area still produces 60 to 80 annually.
"There has been no dropoff in talent," recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "Only five Chicago area players among the top 250 is a low figure. But recruiting is a cyclical thing, up and down. The Midwest in general and the Chicago area in particular is down this year. But I think the class of 2010 will be exceptional, much better than this year and maybe the best since 1990.
"The Public League was down in the 1980s but it is better now with Morgan Park and Hubbard doing so well. The Catholic League is down but Joliet Catholic and Providence are doing well. And the suburbs, particularly the Du Page Valley, have grown so fast and are doing much better than they did 20 years ago."
As for an all-star team of Chicago area players from the 1990s being an embarrassment...well, wouldn't you like to field a team that includes at least 11 All-Pro players?
Here is a partial list, most of whom have played in the NFL:
Quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb, Mount Carmel; Antwaan Randle El, Thornton.
Running backs: Mike Alstott, Joliet Catholic; Chris Brown, Naperville North; Mike Turner, North Chicago; Rocky Harvey, Dunbar; Joey Goodspeed, Oswego.
Receivers: Tai Streets, Thornton; Jon Schweighardt, Wheaton Warrenville South; Justin McCareins, Naperville North; Greg Lewis, Rich South; Eric Parker, Joliet; Matt Cushing, Mount Carmel.
Offensive linemen: Eric Steinbach, Providence; Flozell Adams, Proviso West; Ryan Diem, Glenbard North; David Diehl, Brother Rice; Tony Pape, Hinsdale South; Tony Pashos, Lockport; Matt O'Dwyer, Stevenson.
Defensive linemen: Bryant Young, Bloom; Renaldo Wynn, De La Salle; Simeon Rice, Mount Carmel.
Linebackers: John Holecek, Marian Catholic; Napoleon Harris, Jack Golden and Barry Gardner, Thornton; Matt Roth, Willowbrook; Reggie Hayward, Thornwood; Tyjuan Hagler, Bishop McNamara.
Defensive backs: Rodney Harrison, Marian Catholic; Ray Buchanan, Proviso East; Glenn Earl, Naperville North; Todd Howard, Bolingbrook; Dwayne Goodrich, Richards; Matt Bowen, Glenbard West.
Many of them may not have been national recruits. But if they were good enough to play in the NFL, they couldn't have been chopped liver. Illinois overrated? Not hardly.