10 days, 6,000 miles, 200 players


10 days, 6,000 miles, 200 players

Try it sometime when you have nothing better to do. Drive 6,000 miles in 10 days and interview and evaluate 200 of the best high school football players in the country. Even a side trip to Hawaii is all work, no vacation, no time for surfing or sightseeing, even a luau.

"I lost my voice over the last three days," reported recruiting analyst Tom Lemming after his most recent travel odyssey. "In all honesty, at this point, I'm sick of football. After I got back, I slept for an entire day."

Lemming has been making trips like this for 33 years. But this one was a little over the top. On three days alone, he drove over 1,000 miles. He flew to Hawaii, then drove through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. He met 40 players in Hawaii and 100 in Los Angeles.

It completed his four-month tour of the nation, which covered every state except Alaska and North and South Dakota. If there are any college prospects in those states, Lemming hasn't heard of them. Now, after making a few short hops to New York and Ohio, he'll settle in to write his annual 300-page magazine that reveals the nation's top players.

"Hawaii is loaded with talent. It is the last frontier of college recruiting," Lemming said. "It is too far for most colleges to travel, 10 hours by flight from Chicago."

In Honolulu, Lemming met the University of Hawaii's new coach, Norm Chow, who told him: "I wish you weren't here because it brings too much attention to the state."

Lemming predicts that 20 to 30 Hawaiian products will commit to Division I schools. And he believes that Hawaii produces five or six players with All-America potential every year that most people don't know about except for a few schools on the West Coast.

The best player in Hawaii is 6-foot-3, 238-pound linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea of Punahou, the same school that produced Notre Dame star Mantei Teo and President Barack Obama. He is committed to Stanford.

Other standouts are 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker Kama Correa and 6-foot-4, 320-pound offensive guard Reeve Koehler of St. Louis High School in Honolulu, 6-foot-1, 300-pound nose tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii of Waiahae and 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive tackle Scott Pagano of Moanalna.

Pagano, who benches 405 pounds, has been offered by Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State. Correa and Koehler are uncommitted but Correa's dream is to play for Notre Dame, which hasn't offered yet. All are being pursued by Pac-12 schools.

"If Pagano lived in Chicago, he'd be an All-American," Lemming said.

Another player who figures to attract more attention as the summer goes along is 6-foot-5, 2225-pound linebackertight end Danny Mattingly of Spokane, Wash. He is a second cousin of former baseball great and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. He has been offered by Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA and Nebraska.

For you travel buffs, Lemming recommends "the most beautiful drive I've ever had in the United States," a 400-mile trip from Pullman, Wash., to Boise, Idaho, along routes 95 and 55.

"It started in a snowstorm and 30 degrees and ended up in 80-degree weather," he said. "It was the prettiest drive I've ever been on, including Hawaii. I kept pulling over to look at the scenery along the way...mountains, lakes, streams, canyons, wildlife. It's amazing that it is never talked about."

Meanwhile, Lemming clarified his up-to-date evaluations of the leading prospects in what he has described as the best class of talent in the Chicago area since 1986. The headliners include running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, tackles Ethan Pocic of Lemont and Jack Keeler of Barrington, quarterbacks Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South and defensive tackle Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West.

Regarding Isaac, whom Lemming rates as the No. 1 running back in the nation: "He has everything. What sets him apart from the others is he had great production as a junior. He has ideal size, speed and athletic ability. It looks like everything clicked for hi last year. No one is more all-around than him...run, block and catch."

Lemming said Bailey's commitment to Illinois "gives new coach Tim Beckman and his staff instant credibility in recruiting. He is one of the elite athletes in the country, the best all-around athlete in Illinois. When you see him on film in last year's state championship game, he looked like a precision passer in bad weather. There are a lot of question marks about his passing but he answered them in the state final. He has the ability to play quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety and tight end. But he is a quarterback. Illinois can't go back on its word to let him play quarterback."

Lemming said Alviti's decision to commit to Northwestern "was a great choice. He looks like their quarterback of the future. He is a great precision passer. He only lacks height. If he was 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, he would be a top 100 player. He has foot speed, smarts and arm strength to be the best quarterback ever to come out of Maine South. Northwestern told him that he would be their quarterback of the future, that they would build their offense around him."

Keller was the best offensive lineman that Lemming saw last year in the Chicago area, better than his more heralded teammate Dan Voltz, who committed to Wisconsin. "He is a legitimate 6-foot-7. He'll be a top 125 player, maybe higher," Lemming said, ranking him in the same class with Pocic and tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual.

Lemming said he has watched Pocic for three years and, while he rates him as perhaps the No. 2 prospect in the Chicago area behind Isaac, he admits that he isn't the dominating player he should be or will become. "He has athletic ability and can run and block downfield. But he isn't dominating yet. He is a four-plus guy right now, like Bosch, McGovern, Keeler and Tuley-Tillman. But to become a five-star player, they need to dominate on almost every play. They are much bigger and more athletic than the guys they are going against," Lemming said.

According to Lemming, Dunbar is very athletic and has great growth potential and has the highest ceiling of any defensive player in the state. "But he hasn't realized his potential yet. He has yet to play like the impact player that he should be. For 33 years, I've talked about players taking plays off, like (former Simeon and Illinois star) Martez Wilson, kids who don't play hard all the time. Simeon Rice was the same way," Lemming concluded.

Huskers stay unbeaten with comeback win over Purdue


Huskers stay unbeaten with comeback win over Purdue

At halftime Saturday, Nebraska, the No. 8 team in the country, was trailing Purdue, which just fired its coach.

Uh, what?

Order was soon restored, but the Huskers needed to bounce back from a halftime deficit to grab a 27-14 win over the lowly Boilermakers on Saturday in Lincoln.

Purdue threw an interception on the game's opening drive, and Nebraska turned that into a touchdown, something that looked very much like how everyone expected this one to go. But quarterback David Blough retaliated with the first of two first-half touchdown passes, while the Huskers mustered only a field goal on the next drive and then went silent the rest of the opening 30 minutes, punting three times and Tommy Armstrong throwing an interception right before the break. In there, Blough threw his second touchdown, an 88-yard monster to DeAngelo Yancey that gave the Boilers a lead.

That lead didn't last too long, though, as after going three and out on their first drive of the third quarter, the Huskers scored on each of their next three possessions: an Armstrong pass to De'Mornay Pierson-El, a 24-yard run by Alonzo Moore and a 51-yard field goal by Drew Brown. Meanwhile, the Nebraska defense clamped down, and Purdue had just one drive that lasted more than five plays in the second half, with that drive ending in a turnover on downs and Blough adding an interception.

All in all, the Huskers out-gained the Boilers, 409-333, and had the ball for about seven more minutes, avoiding a repeat of last year's matchup, when Purdue scored its lone Big Ten win over Nebraska.

Armstrong threw for 252 yards, one touchdown and one interception and added 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Terrell Newby had 82 yards rushing.

Blough threw for 309 yards, but the Boilers managed just 24 rushing yards.

The win sent Nebraska to a perfect 7-0 ahead of next weekend's huge Big Ten West Division showdown with Wisconsin.

The loss dropped Purdue to 3-4. The Boilers take on Penn State next weekend.

Michigan improves to 7-0 with predictable blowout win over Illini


Michigan improves to 7-0 with predictable blowout win over Illini

Plenty could've predicted Michigan blowing out Illinois. And, well, that's exactly what happened.

The Wolverines, who at 7-0 now have an average margin of victory of 38.7, grabbed their latest runaway win Saturday in Ann Arbor, crushing the visiting Illini to the tune of 41-8.

Michigan had an insurmountable 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, and Illinois seemed to start this one without a chance as third-string quarterback Jeff George Jr. was pressed into starting duty due to injuries to Wes Lunt and Chayce Crouch.

The Wolverines entered Saturday's contest with the No. 1 scoring defense in the country and the No. 2 scoring offense in the country, and that certainly shone through in the final statistics. Michigan out-gained Illinois, 561-172, holding the Illini to 95 passing yards and 77 rushing yards. Illinois turned the ball over twice while going 2-for-11 on third and fourth downs. Michigan had its typical explosive day offensively with 291 passing yards and 270 rushing yards. The Wolverines were 8-for-16 on third and fourth down.

Michigan scored a touchdown on each of its first four drives: two touchdown tosses from Wilton Speight to Jake Butt and Tyrone Wheatley and a pair of touchdown runs from Khalid Hill and De'Veon Smith. The Wolverines made it 31-0 right before halftime, kicking a field goal off a George interception. Michigan added just 10 points after halftime.

The Illini scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 43-yard pass from George to Malik Turner to end an impressive eight-quarter scoreless streak by the Wolverines which dated back to the Oct. 1 win over Wisconsin.

How about this number? Michigan won the time-of-possession battle 41:23 to 18:37. The Wolverines had 29 first downs to the Illini's six.

Speight finished his day 16-for-23 for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Karan Higdon had 106 of the Michigan rushing total, and Amara Darboh had 99 receiving yards.

George completed only four passes for 95 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Kendrick Foster and Ke'Shawn Vaughn combined for 88 rushing yards.

The win kept the Wolverines without a loss and sent the record to 7-0. Next weekend is the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy against in-state rival Michigan State.

The Illini dropped to 2-5 with the defeat and play host to Minnesota next weekend.