Illini Recruiting Hot Board: Top OG/C Targets To Watch For Illinois’ 2021 Class

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The strongest part of the Illinois offense heading into the 2020 season resides at the line-of-scrimmage with the offensive line.

The Illini will likely have four starting seniors and a rising junior (Kendrick Green) already drawing interest from National Football League scouts and it is because of this five-man combination that those inside the Illinois program are excited about the possibility of a breakout year for an offense led by senior quarterback Brandon Peters. However, it is also that top-heavy nature of the position group led by offensive line coach Bob McClain that the Illini are in desperate need for depth after seniors Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe, Blake Jeresaty and Alex Palczewski walk out of the door via graduation. Lovie Smith’s staff looked to preserve some future at center with verbal commitment of Mississippi State transfer Brevyn Jones, who could also help the team at either tackle spot, but the depth at the interior line positions after the 2020 campaign is filled with question marks and inexperience. While we’ll save the outside tackle positions for Wednesday, Illini Now/Sports Illustrated wanted to take a look at the inside spots, which features one of the top commitments of Illinois’ 2020 class in Brody Wisecarver and arguably the Illini’s best chance at securing a solid in-state recruit.

Since May 1, Illinois football has seen its number of commitments in its 2021 recruiting class rise from one to 10. Illini Now/Sports Illustrated wants to give you some names to watch as we get to the summer months and Lovie Smith’s program attempts to fill out what should be its largest class in recent years.

GUARDS/CENTERS

Josh Kreutz - C - Loyola Academy (Wilmette, Ill.), 6-2, 260, Three Stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com - Offer List: Illinois, Ball State, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Western Kentucky and Wyoming

Illini Now/Sports Illustrated has reported about the level of interest and familiarity between the son of former Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz and Illinois head coach Lovie Smith. However, this recruitment essentially defines what is perceived as the lowest level of work needed to secure an in-state commitment. When Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman hired Smith in 2016, the front door of the Kreutz home was exactly the kind of in-state and Chicagoland door they envisioned opening. If Illinois can’t land the son of the former NFL Pro Bowl selection, who played nine of his best seasons in Chicago for Smith, than the efforts of in-state recruiting might go dry for yet another year. If the COVID-19 pandemic allows for a high school football season in Illinois, Kreutz will grab the attention of Power Five Conference schools with his athleticism, fundamentals and physical nastiness at his dad’s position at center. While it may seem like a long-shot for a true freshman to earn a two-deep spot at a Big Ten Conference school, don’t be surprised if Kreutz is a quick riser in Bob McClain’s positional group if he ends up with the Illini.

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Hutson Lillibridge - OG - DeSmet High School (St. Louis, Mo.), 6-3, 292, Three Stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com - Offer List: Illinois, Indiana, Central Michigan

Lillibridge is a developmental prospect at guard but his athleticism is what differentiates him from a lot of Midwestern offensive line talents. The St. Louis product ran a 5.31-second shuttle time in The Opening regional camp on April 14, 2019 and managed to record a 21.4-inch vertical leap. The interest on Lillibridge has cooled by Illinois coaches since the commitment of Wisecarver but Indiana has devoted two assistants to his recruiting effort and it might not be the worst idea for Illinois to think about trying to secure an All-St. Louis side of an offensive line with Wisecarver having the potential to kick out to right tackle and eventually plugging in Lillibridge at right guard in say, the 2022 or 2023 season. What’s interesting about Lillibridge is he was listed by his high school at 303 pounds but weighed in at The Opening regional at just 292, which should tell folks that he’s comfortable at playing at an effective level at numerous different weights, making him valuable as an emergency option at an outside tackle or center spot.

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Zachary Barlev - OG - Plainfield East H.S. (Plainfield, Ill.), 6-4, 250, Not Ranked by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com - Offer List: Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Harvard, Columbia

Barlev has been on McClain’s radar long before he received his scholarship offer from Illinois in February 2019, which was his first and still only Football Bowl Subdivision offer. The 250-pound offensive guard would certainly need to put on weight in order to handle the rigorous Big Ten Conference at the line-of-scrimmage but McClain’s long-standing interest should tell folks that he sees the potential in the in-state product. His overall intelligence is off the chart (which should make the Ivy League offers no surprise to anybody) but Barlev could be another gem find for Illinois’ offensive line coach that is considered one of the current league’s best molder of talent.

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Justin Pickett - OG - Carmel (Ind.) High Schoo, 6-7, 315, Three Stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com - Offer List: Illinois, Arizona, Duke, West Virginia, Iowa State, UCF, Cincinnati, Miami (Ohio)

Pickett is a physical marvel in so many different ways. First of all, you don’t normally see a prospect projected at guard but stands 6-foot-7 and if so, it normally suggests a lack of pure athleticism. Think again with Pickett. His highlight tape shows two things that Wisecarver immediately gives you and that’s ability to get out on the edge for perimeter stretch play runs and a meanness to finish off blocks several yards down the field. In a game at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Pickett’s Carmel High School team has the ball on the 2-yard-line and Pickett is seen driving the defensive tackle lined up opposite of him several yards out of the end zone. While the fundamentals of keeping his pads low and footwork immediately after the snap might be a work in progress, from a physicality standpoint, Pickett is exactly what McClain would love to work with in Champaign. 

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