Friday, April 27, 2012

Beckman Lands Major Recruiting Coup in Bailey

Bailey is a dynamic player
It's been an interesting few months for Tim Beckman as the new coach for Illinois' football team. He came in, had a decent, but not great finish to the 2012 recruiting class, but more importantly took charge of the program. He went out and hired some excellent assistant coaches; guys who not only can recruit well but know how to coach too. He invigorated the program with needed changes, instilling tempo, competitiveness, and work ethic into everything the football team does on and off the field. He guided the team through it's first real chance to get to know each other, spring practice, and came out the other end knowing the direction the team can head in. Beckman and his staff were even off to a decent, although not spectacular, start to the 2013 recruiting class. But something was missing. It was a spark, some source of momentum that would carry the staff through the rough summer football-less months. And it came yesterday in the form of quarterback prospect Aaron Bailey, who could potentially be the Robert Griffin III for Beckman's program.

Bailey is a consensus 4 star dual threat quarterback from Bolingbrook, IL, the type of kid that all the recruiting services love. He had offers from major programs like Iowa, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nebraska (whom he ultimately chose Illinois over), among others. And that doesn't even count the schools that were recruiting him hard, but hadn't offered yet, because they weren't quite sure what position they would want him at. But there was no doubt for Beckman that Bailey was the key to the future at quarterback. He's Beckman's first major recruit out of the Chicagoland area, and first highly-ranked recruit as well. He's the type of kid that can help change the program. Take a quick look at his highlights and you'll see why:

Aaron Bailey is a dynamic athlete. He's the type of quarterback that can escape pressure in the pocket and turn a scramble into a huge gain. He runs a lot of the read option in high school and is an ideal fit for the up tempo spread offense that Beckman likes to run. But he shouldn't be pigeon-holed only as a scrambling quarterback. The kid has a great arm and isn't afraid to use it. The problem with his high school highlights, of course, is that they show how easy it is for him to use his elite athleticism to evade defenders. What they don't focus enough on his ability to throw the football. It's something he's already good at and has improved immensely in between his sophomore and junior seasons, so look for him to continue that improvement heading into his upcoming senior season and beyond at Illinois. He's been the starter for his program since he was a freshman, so he knows a thing or too about leadership, too.

And that's where I begin to make my RGIII comparison. Their recruiting profiles are strikingly similar. Both kids are around the same size, with Bailey being bigger physically than Griffin was at this stage in the game. Griffin, from Texas, wasn't as highly recruited though as Bailey for much the same reason Bailey doesn't have more offers than he should: coaches weren't sure what position they were going to put him. For instance, Griffin had scholarships waiting for him at several schools, but they wanted to move him to wide receiver. Eschewing that, he followed Art Briles from Houston to Baylor to play quarterback. And look how it paid off, as the Heisman winner shredded defenses last year at Baylor en route to the Heisman trophy and the second overall selection in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Could Bailey be our RGIII?
More important to me, however, than the fact that both are dynamic athletes, is their leadership and intelligence. We're all aware of RGIII's intelligence; he graduated early from high school and college near the top of his class in both. As for Bailey, his intelligence is indicated in the offers he has to play at Northwestern, Notre Dame, Illinois, and a large chunk of the rest of the Big Ten. More than that, he prioritizes academics, citing that as one of the reasons he decided on Illinois. But above all, Bailey's leadership is why I compare him to RGIII. Like Griffin, Bailey is headed to a school that has faced a recent tumultous history. He heads there, also like Griffin at Baylor, as a new coach is attempting to steer the program in a new direction. And like Griffin again, Bailey embraces and is enthusiastic about taking on that challenge.

Bailey cites as one of his main reasons for heading to Illinois the challenge of changing the program. Before he even arrives, he is taking charge of his future and wanting to bring success back to his home state school. How is this not like Griffin? Griffin turned Baylor, a perennial last place team in the Big 12, into a team that dominated for stretches at a time last year. He simply made the program relevant again. Now, I know that it might be a bit much to compare a high school junior to the guy who just got selected second overall and won the Heisman, but really, if Bailey can come in, win games, and help make Illinois relevant again, couldn't he then be our RGIII? It's a lot to live up to, but it seems like a player like Bailey is up for the challenge. Let's hope it works out.

As for Beckman, this could be the push that his staff needed to enter the summer recruiting evaluation periods with some serious momentum. Beckman has spent a lot of time since he took over meeting high school coaches and getting his staff on the road, trying to inject Illinois' name into prospect's heads. And now, after yesterday, he has some really positive material to start using to try and reel kids in. Not only did Whitney Mercilus and AJ Jenkins get drafted int he first round last night, meaning that Illinois now has the most first round draft choices (5) of any school in the Big Ten over the last five years, but he received the commitment of one of the best quarterback prospects in the nation. Like Ron Zook's early years, when he received the commitment of Juice Williams, this could be the recruit that unleashes a wave of solid prospects who look at Illinois. If Beckman and his staff were successful pitching a renewal of the Illinois brand to Bailey, why couldn't it work for other top prospects? It's going to be an interesting next couple months, but I for one like where they're headed.