Early signing day ’22: ISU lands highly recruited Bolingbrook running back

Josh Robinson had numerous offers from FBS schools before signing with Illinois State. (Twitter photo)

By Dan Verdun

Patience paid off in what Illinois State head coach Brock Spack called “the Josh Robinson sweepstakes.”

Robinson, who starred at Bolingbrook High School, appeared destined to become an FBS player. According to the recruiting website 247Sports.com, Robinson had 13 offers including seven Mid-American Conference schools as well as Army and Air Force.

“He was a kid we were on real early in the process. It didn’t look like he was going to be available. He had a bunch of Group of 5 (programs) on him,” Spack said.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Robinson is likely an example of a recent trend in the recruiting game.

“He was a highly recruited back. He had Boston College and a bunch of MAC (offers), but with this (transfer) portal a lot of spots fill up quick, and as scholarships decrease sometimes you’re the causality of that,” said John Ivlow, his head coach at Bolingbrook. “That’s where all these FCS programs are going to benefit.”

Thus, the Redbirds are the beneficiary.

“Patience helped us in that process,” Spack said. “A lot of high school players right now, they just don’t get it. If they have an offer they’d better take it, because it will likely go away if they wait too long unless they’re super-duper and there’s not too many of those guys walking around.”

Added depth

Heading into this past season, Illinois State appeared solid at running back. Then came the injuries.

First, returning starter Cole Mueller was lost for the season just three carries into the opening game. Next, promising redshirt freshman Wenkers Wright was hampered by ailments nearly all fall.

Brock Spack (ISU photo)

Spack sees Robinson and fellow recruit Joshua Ficklin, a 5-foot-10 and 200-pound back from Bentonville, Ark., with good potential for the future.

“They’re contrasting backs, but they compliment each other well,” Spack said. “Robinson is more of a downhill runner, more like (former ISU and current NFL back) James Robinson was. (He has) good speed and enough wiggle to him to make people miss.”

According to his biographical sketch on GoRedbirds.com, Robinson played three varsity seasons for Ivlow, rushing for 620 yards and 12 touchdowns his senior season. He also had 20 receptions and helped his team to the state playoffs.

“He can do it all. He’s got good hands. He’s a big back with good size. I’ve had a couple of big backs (over the years), but none as nimble as him,” Ivlow said. “He’s got a great work ethic. He just needs to keep transforming that body. He’s already a big, strong kid.

“(I told him) to keep that up, don’t let your body go to pot. Stay in shape. Sometimes you see guys drop off a bit. It’s hard to stay motivated and keep up with your training as you’re waiting, but I don’t see that being a problem for him. He’s going to keep plugging away.”

Longtime state recruiting analyst “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran has seen Robinson firsthand on a number of occasions.

“He’s a big back with a good combination of speed and power,” O’Halloran said. “Early on he had some MAC offers . . . he’s definitely a MAC-level kind of player with overall physical tools. He has a really good chance to get in there and compete (at ISU).”

Joshua Ficklin (ISU photo)

Ficklin, meanwhile, was a three-year varsity starter for head coach Jody Grant. As a senior, he earned all-state honors rushing for 1,487 yards and 26 touchdowns. Ficklin sparked his team to a berth in the state championship game.

“He’s faster (than Robinson),” Spack said of Ficklin. “Both guys can catch the ball. He’s more of an (open) space guy. He can make people miss. He’s a little more of a scatbackish, not a pure scatback, but a little bit more in that direction.”

The Redbirds are also bringing in running back Mason Blakemore, a transfer from FBS Northern Illinois.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Blakemore, a downstate Centralia High School product, played in six games for NIU this fall. He rushed for 88 yards on 23 attempts.

Look out for . . .

O’Halloran, who has been covering Illinois prep football since 1995, is also high on the addition of Marmion Academy defensive lineman Ivan Erickson.

Ivan Erickson (ISU photo)

“His size is legitimate,” O’Halloran said of the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder. “ISU is going to find a place for him whether it’s on the defensive line, or they convert him over to offensive line.”

Erickson was a three-year varsity starter for head coach Dan Thorpe, earning honorable mention all-state honors as a senior.

“He’s the big body athlete who is skilled. He moves well and is athletic. He’s another kid who just fell through the cracks,” O’Halloran said. “When it’s all said and done, he has a chance to be a long-term player for them.”

Center of attention

In addition to signing 18 high school players, Illinois State is bringing in seven transfers.

“We looked for a balanced class all the way through,” Spack said. “If you take a transfer, that’s the plan. You want them to come in and contribute and if not, be a starter, at least be a factor. If not, you probably made a mistake.”

Offensive lineman Larry Ross, a transfer from FCS Stony Brook, may have the most immediate impact on offense.

Larry Ross (Stony Brook photo)

“He’s really mature,” Spack said. “We were impressed with him.”

Ross, listed at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, is the likely candidate to replace Drew Brones, an all-conference player, at center.

“That’s the biggest reason we took him,” Spack said. “He played a lot of center the second half of the season. He had seven starts at the end of the season. He was a guard before that . . . he’s much more comfortable at center. We need a pure center, so we went out and got one.”

In addition to Ross and Blakemore, Illinois State’s transfers include defensive lineman Kenny Givens (Western Michigan), safety CJ Hodgdon (Venura Community College), quarterback Mason Kaplan (FCS Valparaiso) and linebacker Amir Abdullah (D2 Nebraska-Kearney).

One response to “Early signing day ’22: ISU lands highly recruited Bolingbrook running back”

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