Signing Day: Last minute surprises favor NIU

Phillips football players Fabian McCray (NIU), DeAndre Johnson (Indiana State) and Joseph Thompson (Illinois). Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.
Phillips football players Fabian McCray (NIU), DeAndre Johnson (Indiana State) and Joseph Thompson (Illinois). Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

The recruiting process is a journey. It is often long and stressful but generally has a rewarding end. That came on Wednesday for many area football players that signed letters of intent.

There were some surprises. All-Area receiver Michael Love of Nazareth decided on Northern Illinois just two days ago.

“I really thought it was best fit for me,” Love said. “If I work hard, I can make an impact early. It’s close to home and I know several kids who go there. I’m very comfortable going there and that’s always a good thing.”

That is the key to recruiting, finding a home. The process can take years.

“Recruiting started the summer before my junior year when I went to camps,” Batavia’s Michael Jansey Jr., a Northwestern recruit, said. “I knew I wanted to play college football when I started playing high school football.”

It was a long, rewarding journey for the 6-2, 210-pound All-Area linebacker.

“I remember when I got my first offer I went crazy with excitement and shock,” Jansey said. “I called my parents who were out and told them all the hard work payed off and that I have an opportunity to play college ball.”

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Recruiting started even earlier for Richards defensive back Sebastian Castro, who signed with Iowa.

“Sophomore year my coach took me out of class to tell me that Syracuse offered,” Castro said. “I remember a rush of happiness just going through my body.”

The process almost always starts to speed up after that first offer.

“After the first offer everyone started to contact me,” Castro said. “Junior year after doing 7-on-7’s I gained a lot of confidence in my game and knew I could play in college.”

Castro committed to Iowa in April of his junior year.

“It was a relief,” Castro said. “I was getting tired of the recruiting process and I was happy I was getting it over with. Iowa was always my school.”

Four football players from Phillips signed on Wednesday, including Fabian McCray. He committed to NIU just hours before signing.

“This is one of the best feelings I have ever had,” McCray said. “I am achieving a childhood dream. Signing on the line just made the moment even more sweet. Knowing that I was making it really official.”

Sun-Times Player of the Year Payton Thorne signed with Michigan State. The Naperville Central quarterback recently decommitted from Western Michigan.

“It’s a dream come true,” Thorne said. “Obviously this is just the start but it’s always been my dream to play at this level and seeing that Sparty logo on the National Letter of Intent is pretty awesome.”

The big local winners on signing day were Northwestern and Northern Illinois. The Huskies added last minute commitments from Love and McCray. NIU also picked up signatures from six other area standouts.

Northwestern signed Jansey Jr., New Trier defensive end Duke Olges and Bolingbrook defensive back Cameron Mitchell.

“It’s great that a lot of the top guys in the state are staying home,” Mitchell said. “I feel like when you have an offer from great school like Northwestern that is so close to home, there’s no reason to go anywhere else. You get the best of both worlds so I’m excited to play and compete there.”

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