CHICAGO – Joliet, Ill., is known as the city of champions, but that title was originally given to the city after an American Legion band won national recognition.
But most recently the title sure fits because of the success of the Joliet Catholic Academy program that has won 11 state champions and sent countless prospects to the next level.
But there is some competition in producing blue-chip talent just to the North from Bolingbrook, which is home to another impressive collection of great recruits.
Either way, college recruiters can’t miss at either school and both places will be among the first stops of college recruiters during the spring evaluation period. The schools were Rivals100.com editor Jeremy Crabtree’s first stops in a five-day trip to the Land of Lincoln to scout prospects with Midwest analyst Tim O’Halloran.
For months now, O’Halloran has been touting JCA linebacker Chris Jeske as one of the top prospects in the state of Illinois, and from eye-balling the 6-foot-2, 215-pound inside linebacker there is little doubt he has the ability to be special.
Especially when you hear the praise gushed upon Jeske by JCA coaching legend Dan Sharp.
“He’s one of the best that we’ve ever had here,” Sharp said. “And we’ve had some really special players over the years. He’s everything that you want in a player. He’s a great leader, a great student and a great kid off the football field. We’ve had some great prospects over the years here, but I would put Chris right up there at top with all of those guys.
“He’s special. Chris is the best junior linebacker I’ve ever coached.”
That’s a mouthful considering the blue-chip pedigree that JCA has.
Just in the past four recruiting classes, the Hilltoppers have produced at least seven major Division I recruits, including Penn State linebacker J.R. Zwierzynski, Michigan offensive lineman Mike Kolodziej and Indiana bound lineman Jim Jadron.
More film still needs to be evaluated, but from an early glance, it might be fair to say that Jeske could be one of the top five to 10 prospects in the state of Illinois – in what is shaping up to be an amazing class. Jeske already has a scholarship offers from Northwestern and Wisconsin, and Jeske is getting early attention from Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, and Texas.
Up the road from Joliet about 10 miles is Bolingbrook, home to Class of 2004 five-star linebacker Kyle Williams. But with that class already in the past, it’s time to focus on what appears to be one of the best collections of recruits in the Midwest.
At the top of the wish list for recruiters is linebacker Ryan Bain, who is one of the most physically impressive looking prospects around. Bain is one of the most strapping, sturdy and stacked players that Rivals100.com has seen in person in quite some time.
He can easily bench-press 360-pounds and can squat almost 500 pounds at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. However, with a 4.7-second time in the 40-yard dash, he might end up playing either defensive end or defensive tackle by the time he’s finished.
"He could carry 275 easy and play defensive line," Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow said. "He's going to be a steal for anybody. I don't think these people realize that he is not your typical high school kid. You look at him and he looks like he's 25, a senior in college the way he's built."
Bain is about to explode on the recruiting scene with already one big-time scholarship offer and more to come.
"I have a scholarship offer from Oregon, and both Northwestern and NIU have also talked about making me an early offer,” Bain said. “I'm getting a ton of mail, hand written stuff from the entire Big 10 conference and more mail from all over the country as well."
But Bain isn’t the only impressive recruit on hand at Bolingbrook.
Offensive tackle Ohene Wiafe-Ababio definitely passes the eye-ball test at a legitimate 6-foot-8 and 310 pounds. Wiafe-Ababio didn’t start too many games as a junior because of a some times unspectacular effort on the practice field, but Ivlow is convinced that his star lineman has made leaps and bounds and is set to take the recruiting world by storm.
“He’s got a shot at being something really special,” his coach said. “He’s going to be a kid that’s going to have his college paid for.”
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and several other Big 10 programs are already starting to show attention, but honestly don’t be surprised many other programs jump on him after they see him in the spring evaluation period.
Defensive back Josh Cooper (5-9, 170) also has a shot at becoming a solid D-I recruit, but what’s also impressive is the collection of players for the Class of 2006.
Watch out for sophomore fullback/defensive tackle Maurice Hill, who is already 6-2 and 244 pounds. Ivlow said he projects as a monster fullback prospect. Sophomore receiver Carl Fisher (6-0, 180) should be one of the top receivers in the state of Illinois this year.
And don’t forget about the freshmen – yes freshmen. Bolingbrook running back Dale Martin has already established himself as one of the better backs in all of Chicago. He has an impressive frame and Ivlow comments about his vision and toughness.
“Just imagine what he’s going to be like as a senior,” the coach said.