This is the fifth installment of looking at the particular recruiting trends from a specific state. We've already hit California, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, so we're going back to the midwest to analyze recruiting in the state of Illinois. The first four states previewed churn out All-Americans and national champions on a yearly basis and Illinois continues to produce top-level talent, as well.
Ten Illinois natives were named first-team All-Americans by the NWCA in 2020. While it's not fair to compare that total to the 2019 NCAA Championships, it is an increase by four from 2019. In 2020, five wrestlers (Austin O'Connor, Isaiah White, Eric Schultz, Jacob Warner, and Anthony Cassioppi) from the Land of Lincoln earned top-five seeds at the ill-fated NCAA tournament. With that type of talent coming from Illinois, it's difficult to understand why the last Illinois native to win an NCAA title was Tony Ramos (2014), and before him, it was Matt Lackey (2003). After Ramos' title, the only Illinois product to make the NCAA finals was Lavion Mayes for Missouri.
What makes Illinois' lack of recent national tiles even more compounding is the state's dominance in Fargo. In 2019 the Junior men's freestyle team captured their third consecutive team title and their seventh in the last ten years. The Junior Greco squad is on a run with 12 successive team crowns. The 16U/Cadet freestyle team has also won in seven of their last ten opportunities, while the Geco team has won seven in a row.
Those wins at Fargo tend to positively impact a high school wrestler's ranking amongst their weight class and from a recruiting perspective. Now, do we weigh a recruits results in freestyle or Greco to heavily, when they'll wrestle folkstyle in college? That's a definite possibility. More often than not, those results in Fargo correlate to collegiate success. Though with sooo many All-Americans in both styles in Fargo from Illinois, there are a few that are bound to miss at the collegiate level.
Illinois currently has four DI programs and during the exercise below, you'll see that the University of Illinois clearly stands out when recruiting top in-state talent. 13 top-150 recruits over the last decade have decided to stay home and wrestle for the Illini. Excluding Travis Piotrowski (who was named an AA in 2020), the only one of the group that has earned collegiate All-American honors, Emery Parker, was not a top-150 recruit.
Illinois has long been a place for neighboring states to poach talent and one of those programs has been Iowa. While the Hawkeyes don't have a long list of signees from Illinois in the last decade, the ones they have chosen have hit. Four of their five Illinois natives earned All-American honors and that doesn't even include greats of the past like Ramos and the Williams brothers (Joe and TJ).
Michigan is another Big Ten program that has dropped by from time to time and nabbed top talent. Two top-100 recruits from 2020 went north to wrestle for Sean Bormet, who used to run the Overtime School of Wrestling in Naperville. Two years ago, Bormet's team was able to entice Junior World Champion Will Lewan to leave Illinois for Michigan.
A new threat to Illinois talent has come from their most recent national champion, Ramos. While assisting Coleman Scott at North Carolina, Ramos has been instrumental in landing three top-100 recruits from the state, including O'Connor, who spent a portion of the 2019-20 campaign ranked number one in the nation. Ramos and Scott already have one member of the Class of 2021 committed from Illinois.
Below you will find an alphabetical listing of all DI teams that have signed a top-150 recruit from Illinois in the last decade (2011-20). In parentheses, you'll find their high school, followed by their ranking in their respective recruiting class. The rankings are courtesy of TOM from 2017-20 and before that, they are from my old D1CW site. Also, to credit schools that have developed talent once they made it to the wrestling room, I've also included non-ranked wrestlers that ended up either earning All-American honors or receiving a top-16 seed at the NCAA Tournament.
Those from Illinois that wrestled at an out-of-state school such as Blair Academy or Wyoming Seminary were not factored in. We also only factored in wrestlers that signed with a college initially. Transfers were not included/updated.
Trace Carello (Marmion Academy) #138 Class of 2016
Kordell Norfleet (Marian Catholic) #46 Class of 2017
Mech Spraggins (Belleville West) #82 Class of 2013
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