From early indications, it appears as though the class of 2012 in Illinois, this year's juniors, is better than the class of 2011, this year's seniors. It shouldn't come as a big surprise because the level of talent in the senior class throughout the Midwest is lower than anyone can recall in recent memory. But the future looks encouraging.
Some seniors who have made instant impacts include Schaumburg running back Shepard Little, who rushed for 248 yards in the Saxons' upset of Maine South; Stevenson quarterback Kevin Earl; St. Rita tight end Tim Gorski; Conant offensive lineman Ken Kalish; Elk Grove quarterback Nick Meyer; Joliet Catholic running back Josh Ferguson; Simeon running back Horatio Banks, wide receiver/defensive back Darius Scott and tackle Chris Bryant; Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Reilly O'Toole; quarterback Mike LaCosse of Naperville North; quarterback/running back Juwan Martin of De La Salle; and Thornridge running back Mika'il McCall.
As I've written earlier, there are only two Illinois products who have attracted national recognition in the preseason--Edwardsville running back/linebacker Rodney Coe and Vernon Hills wide receiver DaVaris Daniels.
There are others who have the skills and potential to earn top 100 ranking but they must have breakout senior years. Little, for example, sat out his junior year for disciplinary reasons after rushing for 1,600 yards as a sophomore. O'Toole, who is committed to Illinois, and LaCosse, who is pledged to Minnesota, rank 1-2 among the quarterbacks in the state at the moment. But LaCosse, a 6-6, 220-pounder, one of the best athletes in the Chicago area, could be groomed to play tight end in college.
The junior class is headed by 6-3, 305-pound defensive end Tommy Schutt of Glenbard West and quarterbacks Robert Gregory of Simeon and B.J. Bilyeu of Bartlett. Gregory's eye-popping performance against Mount Carmel at Soldier Field last Sunday--he amassed more than 500 yards in total offense, running and passing--moved him to the top of the list.
Other juniors to watch are running backs Lance Murdock of Barrington, Jordan Kos and Michael Panico of Carmel, 6-6, 300-pound offensive lineman Paul Perschon of Conant, 6-3, 255-pound defensive lineman Robert Bain of Bolingbrook, running back Peter Bonahoom of Prospect, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp of Montini and 290-pound offensive lineman Dan Voltz of Barrington.
Kos and Panico combined for more than 450 yards rushing as Carmel emerged as one of the surprise teams in the state. Panico, a 5-8, 175-pounder whose brother was an All-Stater at Libertyville and a freshman starter at Nebraska, was timed in 4.48 at the Akron and Notre Dame camps. More athletic, faster and better than his brother at this stage, he needs to gain 20 pounds. He is the most elusive running back I have seen, a game-breaker at the tailback position.
Schutt is the No. 1 player in the junior class but he must watch his weight. He would be better off playing at 285 pounds than 305. A defensive lineman should weigh 250 to 260 while maintaining his quickness.
Gorski, a 6-7 and 245 pounds, while grow into an offensive tackle in college. Meyer and Earl should have more scholarship offers. Bonahoom has Division I talent but likely will be a wide receiver or defensive back in college. He has 4.45 speed and has a 4.6 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. Murdock, a 6-1, 205-pounder with 4.5 speed, also should be playing defensive back or linebacker.
Everything and everyone considered, it appears the juniors are better than the seniors. I've never seen that before, not in the last 31 years. It usually takes longer for football players to develop in high school.
The sophomore class looks good, too. Running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic is emerging as the headliner ahead of offensive linemen Ethan Pocic of Lemont and Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis. Pocic, a 6-5, 280-pounder, could be better than his brother Graham, a starter at Illinois.