This is one of the best years for Downstate talent in a long, long time. No, there isn't anyone as good as East St. Louis' Terry Hawthorne, last year's headliner. But the class of 2010 has more depth and more good prospects outside the Chicago area than I can remember.
The leaders are quarterback Sean Robinson of Rochester and wide receivers Matt Milton of Mascoutah and Jimmie Hunt of Cahokia.
In fact, Robinson is the No. 1 quarterback in Illinois. The 6-4, 215-pounder is a great athlete, not one-dimensional. He has a great arm, can throw on the run or from the pocket or the spread. He is a legitimate big-time prospect even though he plays at a small school. His coach is Derek Leonard, son of Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin coach Ken Leonard.
Thanks to a tip from the Leonards, I made Rochester my first stop on the day after Christmas. If he was playing in the Chicago area, Robinson would have 30-40 offers. At the moment, he has offers from Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Stanford, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue. Nebraska rates him as its No. 1 prospect at quarterback.
Milton, a 6-6, 205-pounder with 4.6 speed, has several offers, including Illinois, Iowa and Tennessee. He is comparable to Proviso West wide receiver Kyle Prater, who ran 4.7 at the All-American combine in San Antonio in January. Milton is taller than Prater, has a 35-inch vertical leap and can catch anything within reach. He isn't a blazer, not a long-ball threat, but he is sure-handed, a red-zone type receiver.
Hunt, a 6-1, 195-pounder, runs 40 years in 4.5 seconds and 100 meters in 10.8 seconds. He has been offered by Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State. But his grades are suspect. In college, he likely will play strong safety. Last season, he was credited with 95 tackles.
Other Downstaters to watch are quarterbacks Patrick Ivy of Cahokia and Robert Smith of Decatur MacArthur, defensive ends Warren Herring of Belleville East, De'Ron Flood of O'Fallon, Colton Underwood of Washington and Alex James of Decatur MacArthur, guard Cameron Adams of Belvidere, linebacker Rayvonte Rice of Champaign Centennial, tackle Tyler Loos of Sterling and a quartet of promising prospects from East St. Louis--running back Courtney Molton, cornerback Jylon Spraggins, quarterback Detchauz Wray and 6-7, 300-pound tackle Kelvin Nelson.
Ivy, a 6-4, 195-pounder, threw for 2,700 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. He has been timed in 4.5 for 40 yards and 10.8 seconds for 100 meters. A good athlete, he can run and pass.
Herring, a 6-3, 230-pounder, is committed to Kansas State. He is undersized for a defensive end and isn't fast. But he makes plays. He isn't a great player yet but has potential to develop into a productive defender.
Rice, a standout on Champaign Centennial's state championship basketball team last season, is a 6-3, 215-pound linebacker with enormous potential. But he may opt to play basketball in college.
Adams (6-3, 285), James (6-3, 245), Loos (6-5, 270), Underwood (6-4, 260) and Flood (6-3, 230) are potential Division I performers. Underwood had 18 sacks as a junior. Flood, who has 4.69 speed, caught 21 passes for 360 yards as a tight end but might be better suited to play defensive end in college.
Wray, an outstanding passer, led East St. Louis to the state title last fall. But recruiters view him as a Pat White type, a superb athlete who might be better served as a wide receiver in college.