Critics like to remind me of players I overlooked or didn't rate high enough as opposed to those I didn't or did. After 30 years of evaluating talent, I am proud of my track record. Nobody is 100 percent. And I long ago learned to live with the fact that, no matter how I rate a player or a recruiting class, somebody will disagree.
For example, when I tapped Tim Tebow as the No. 1 quarterback in the country before anyone else, critics said they knew about him all along. But they jumped on my evaluation of Palatine quarterback Jeff Hecklinski, who went to Illinois but didn't do well. The truth was he was told that the Illini would build their offense around him--but it didn't happen.
Look at the NFL. Former Notre Dame running back Ryan Grant, now with the Green Bay Packers, is one of the leading rushers in the league. But he was undrafted. Imagine, all of the teams in the NFL, with all of the millions of dollars they spend on scouting, passed on Grant. I guess it only proves that everybody makes mistakes.
Let's examine the case of Illinois guard Martin O'Donnell, recently named to the college All-America first team. As a senior at Downers Grove South, he was rated as one of the top five offensive linemen in the nation by one scouting service. I rated him as the No. 3 offensive lineman and the No. 5 player in Illinois.
That was 2002. The same scouting service that touted O'Donnell rated Kyle Williams of Bolingbrook as the No. 1 linebacker in the country and the No. 1 player in Illinois. Williams went to Iowa, then to Purdue. Now he is in jail. I wasn't impressed by Williams' performance on film or in person and didn't even rank him among the top 100 players in the nation. I took a lot of heat for that at the time.
The top five players in Illinois on my list were Buffalo Grove's Tom Zbikowski, Decatur MacArthur's Moe Dampeer, Richards' Mike Jones, Wheaton North's Akim Millington and O'Donnell. All of them were four-star players (out of five).
O'Donnell wasn't an impact player in his first four years at Illinois but he came on this season to be one of the key movers in coach Ron Zook's running attack. Good for him. The Chicago Bears' offensive line could use a young body like his.