The highest-ranked signee ever for each Big Ten program
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
Highly-ranked recruits are a big deal for any fan base so we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the highest-ranked high school signee for each Power Five school in Rivals.com history and see how they panned out. Today we look at the Big Ten.
ILLINOIS: MARTIN O'DONNELL (2003)
The skinny: O’Donnell took official visits to Illinois, Stanford and Nebraska before committing to the Illini in early December. He had a very productive career with the Illini, earning All-American honors at guard while also leading the Illini to the Rose Bowl. However, his last football game would be at that Rose Bowl as he decided to retire from the sport due to several injuries.
Farrell’s take: O’Donnell certainly panned out for Illinois and was a very mature and technically sound offensive lineman coming out of high school. He was a kid who could play tackle or guard at the next level and he was aggressive in nature. Illinois doesn’t produce as many high-level prospects today as it has in the past, so O'Donnell could be the Illini's highest-ranked signee for a while.
INDIANA: SAMPSON JAMES (2019)
The skinny: James was initially committed to Ohio State before re-opening his process during his senior season. He quickly made the flip to in-state Indiana, which was a huge recruiting win for the Hoosiers. James was an early enrollee this year and is likely to receive immediate playing time this fall.
Farrell’s take: It says something about Indiana recruiting that its highest-ranked recruit came in recent years and that’s a good sign. Of course Gunner Kiel would have been the guy if he stayed committed to the Hoosiers way back when but I think James is going to be a good one.
IOWA: KYLE WILLIAMS (2004)
The skinny: Williams committed to Iowa in October, but then also took official visits to Miami, Oregon and Purdue. However, at the end he signed with the Hawkeyes. Williams never played any games at Iowa, however. He was ruled academically ineligible before the season. He sat out that year, retook the ACT and then signed with Purdue in the following class. He played one season there, totaling 29 tackles in seven games. Concussions and off-the-field issues slowed his progress at Purdue and followed him afterward, as he recently finished a 10-year sentence for attempted rape.
Farrell’s take: What a waste of talent as Williams was a very impressive linebacker who could cover a ton of ground. He’s obviously one of the biggest busts in Rivals history. Williams was part of a great linebacker group from 2002-04 but many of them didn’t pan out.
MARYLAND: MELVIN ALAEZE (2005)
The skinny: Alaeze trimmed his list of top schools down to Maryland and Virginia Tech before committing to the in-state Terps. However, he never saw the field at Maryland. First he was academically ineligible and then eventually was dismissed from the program for marijuana charges. He found a new home at Illinois, but again never played a down after he was removed from the program for violating team rules. In 2007 he pleaded guilty to first-degree assault as part of an armed robbery and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Farrell’s take: Stefon Diggs was up there as well but wasn’t ranked as high as Alaeze ended up and this is another bust. Alaeze was a remarkable talent but he had academic and then other off-field issues that never allowed him to show that talent in college. This is an absolute shame as I would have loved to see how much success he could have had with the Terps.
MICHIGAN: RASHAN GARY (2016)
The skinny: Gary committed to Michigan over Clemson, Alabama and Auburn. The Wolverines were considered the front-runner for several months prior to his decision. While his time in Ann Arbor was productive, he never reached the level of the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Even with that, he was still selected with the the 12th overall pick this spring by Green Bay where the Packers will look for him to make an immediate impact this fall.
Farrell’s take: Gary was obviously an amazing talent and we saw him dominate at defensive end and defensive tackle in high school. He ended up as a first-round pick and showed many flashes of brilliance at Michigan although some feel his career didn’t reach expectations. Regardless, he was one of the most talented big men out of high school in Rivals history.
MICHIGAN STATE: WILLIAM GHOLSTON (2010)
The skinny: Gholston was considering Michigan State, Michigan, USC, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee when he committed to the Spartans in mid-June. He was twice named an All-Big Ten selection during his time in East Lansing, before skipping his final season for the NFL Draft. Selected in the fourth round by Tampa Bay in 2013, he is still playing for the Buccaneers while totaling 233 tackles and 11 sacks in his professional career.
Farrell’s take: Gholston was an athletic dream coming out of high school with length and great quickness off the snap. He had a very good career at Michigan State and panned out and continues on in the NFL. With his athleticism I thoughts he’d be a sure first-rounder if he developed but he’s still represented well as a former five-star prospect.
MINNESOTA: JEFF JONES (2014)
The skinny: Jones made a commitment to Minnesota during a junior day in early February, deciding that he wanted to play close to home. He sat out his freshman season due to academics, then only played in three games before transferring to Iowa Western Community College. In May 2016, he was charged with felony drug possession after being pulled over with a firearm in the vehicle. The latest step in his saga is that in February he signed with Waldorf University, an NAIA program in Iowa, to play this fall.
Farrell’s take: Jones was a great talent who rose late in the rankings after an amazing performance at the Under Armour All-America Game. But like many on these lists, he’s been a disappointment for reasons off the field and not for lack of talent. I would have loved to see what he could have done in the Big Ten.
NEBRASKA: BAKER STEINKUHLER (2008)
The skinny: With his father and brother having played at Nebraska, there was little doubt that the youngest Steinkuhler would join them in Lincoln. He did exactly this with an early commitment early in his junior season. At Lincoln he was moved to defensive tackle, where he was named second-team All-Big Ten after his senior season. However, a knee injury during his senior year left him undrafted the following spring. He was never able to make an impact at the professional level after his knee injury.
Farrell’s take: The only five-star in state of Nebraska history if I remember correctly, Steinkuhler switched sides of the ball and had an OK career that was derailed by injury. Much more was expected especially as an offensive lineman considering how great his father was but he’s still an iconic recruit in Nebraska history.
NORTHWESTERN: IFEADI ODENIGBO (2012)
The skinny: Odenigbo trimmed his list to Northwestern, Notre Dame and Stanford before committing to the Wildcats in early January. He didn’t disappoint with the Wildcats, finishing second all-time in sacks and leading the Big Ten in that category in 2016. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft by Minnesota, Odenigbo has bounced around the league during his first two seasons without seeing any significant playing time.
Farrell’s take: Odenigbo was clearly only interested in high academic schools which was the key for Northwestern and he ended up having a very good career. He was a skinny outside pass rusher with great length and that helped him have so much success in college. Odenigbo always needed to add strength and that’s one of the weaknesses in his game but he was a great pickup for Northwestern.
OHIO STATE: TERRELLE PRYOR (2008)
The skinny: Pryor looked to be down to Ohio State and Michigan, when on National Signing Day he announced that he still wanted to take a closer look at Penn State. Six weeks later the drama concluded when he finally signed with the Buckeyes. Pryor led the Buckeyes to two Big Ten titles, but an NCAA investigation in 2011 led to his withdrawal from the university. This led him to the NFL Supplemental draft, where he was selected by Oakland. Eventually he was moved to wide receiver where he experienced moderate success with Cleveland. After splitting time between the New York Jets and Buffalo in 2018, he is currently a free agent.
Farrell’s take: One of the best pure athletes I’ve ever seen in my career, Pryor was a huge quarterback who was hard to tackle, had long-strider speed and improved every year as a passer. He was our No 1 guy from start to finish with little competition and he could have been a star basketball player as well. Pryor's recruitment was dramatic as well going past signing day. I still think he could have won a national title with Ohio State if he didn’t have to leave early.
PENN STATE: DERRICK WILLIAMS (2005)
The skinny: Williams trimmed his list of top schools down to Penn State, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida State before committing to the Nittany Lions. At Penn State he had a productive yet unspectacular career in Happy Valley, which culminated in a Big Ten title in 2008. Selected in the third-round of the 2009 NFL Draft by Detroit, Williams never made a mark in the United States before making his way to the CFL in 2013.
Farrell’s take: Williams was a dynamic athlete coming out of high school who played quarterback but projected as a wide receiver and dominated as a pass catcher on numerous occasions. The start to his career at Penn State was awesome as the team used him perfectly but he struggled a bit when the Nittany Lions changed offenses. He had dynamic speed coming out of high school.
PURDUE: SELWYN LYMON (2005)
The skinny: Lymon committed to Purdue over Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan shortly after his December official visit to West Lafayette. He totaled 73 receptions for 1,030 yards and five touchdowns during his two seasons, but was then dismissed from the team after a second drunken driving charge. He had a tryout with the Miami Dolphins, but never made an active NFL roster.
Farrell’s take: Lymon had a ton of talent and was having a very good career and about to emerge before he ran into trouble off the field. He was a very important in state keep for Purdue.
RUTGERS: DARIUS HAMILTON (2012)
The skinny: Hamilton took official visits to Rutgers, Miami, Cal and Florida before committing to the Scarlet Knights in early February. He enjoyed some excellent moments with the Scarlet Knights, but injuries derailed his true potential in Piscataway. Finishing his collegiate career with 168 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks, he never made an impact at the professional level.
Farrell’s take: This was surprising to me because I thought Hamilton would be a college and NFL star despite not being the longest player. He was physical, technically sound, explosive and smart and injuries really hurt him. Hamilton had a good career but didn’t live up to high expectations as a massive in-state keep for Rutgers.
WISCONSIN: JOSH OGLESBY (2007)
The skinny: Oglesby had a top two of Wisconsin and USC when he committed to the home-state Badgers during the spring. His career in Madison never fully met expectations, mostly due to knee injuries, even though he was named first-team All-Big Ten after his senior season. Due to the history of injuries his NFL dream never became a reality. He has since coached at the college level at programs such as Oregon State and UTEP.
Farrell’s take: Oglesby was very athletic and used his length very well but the knee injuries held him back. It’s ironic that he’s the highest-ranked recruit for Wisconsin as an offensive lineman and so many others have panned out better. But had he stayed healthy, he would have been a college and NFL freak.