It took a while, but Hillcrest’s Mar’Keise Irving and Naperville Central’s Sam Jackson will be reunited finally.
Irving and Jackson were AAU basketball teammates in fifth and sixth grade, and football teammates with the Harvey Colts as eighth graders.
Now, they’re both part of Minnesota’s 2021 football recruiting class, which has a distinctly Chicago flavor.
Irving, a three-star running back who’s also a basketball standout for the Hawks, committed on May 9. Jackson, who plays quarterback for the Redhawks and is listed as a three-star athlete by recruiting analysts, gave a verbal commitment on April 22.
“We always wanted to go to school together,” Irving said. “It’s something we always talked about.”
Irving had planned to commit later, but the coronavirus pandemic changed his timeline.
“I made my decision earlier because I didn’t know when this corona stuff is going to be over,” he said.
He did have the advantage of having visited the Minnesota campus and meeting coach P.J. Fleck before the lockdown.
“I felt like it was home,” Irving said. “It wasn’t a hard decision.”
Fleck, who starred at Kaneland and Northern Illinois as a player, has put his Chicago area contacts to good use after a breakthrough season in which the Gophers went 11-2 and won the Outback Bowl.
Minnesota has commitments from five of the top 18 players in Rivals’ Class of 2021 Illinois rankings: No. 10 Irving, No. 13 Antioch quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, No. 14 Providence tight end Jameson Geers, No. 16 Antioch wide receiver Dino Kaliakmanis and No. 18 Jackson.
Irving should be a good fit for the Gophers, according to Rivals Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt.
“Mar’Keise is one of the most explosive athletes in the entire Midwest from this 2021 class,” Helmholdt said. “He can definitely hit the home run. He’s ... going to be really fun to watch in P.J. Fleck’s offense.”
Michigan picked up a commitment from Bolingbrook outside linebacker Tyler McLaurin on May 9. He’s a three-star recruit ranked 11th in the state in the Class of 2021 by Rivals.
McLaurin started playing football in fourth grade, but stopped the next year and didn’t resume till his freshman year. In the interim, he was playing soccer, a sport that he believes made him a better football player in the end.
“Soccer is pretty much footwork and open-field stuff,” he said. “It’s a long game, 90 minutes with no timeouts. [Though] in reality in soccer you don’t go hard all game.”
McLaurin likes the Wolverines for more than their football tradition.
“Me and my family were discussing this earlier this week,” he said. “We strongly believe Michigan gave me a great fit academically [for] football and from a standpoint of making connections in the real world. [We] had an understanding football has to come to an end at some point.”
Helmholdt likes McLaurin’s upside.
“I think he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential,” Helmholdt said.
Willie Shaw to Toledo, and more
Brother Rice running back Willie Shaw, ranked seventh in the state by Rivals, committed to Toledo May 10.
Shaw said Toledo coaches expect him to make an impact as a freshman. That was one reason he picked the Mid-American Conference school over Power Five offers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska among others.
“I tell my teammates all the time, it’s not about the name of the school, the brand, the logo,” he said. “It’s about where you can go to improve yourself,”
Helmholdt calls Shaw “the best 2021 pickup” by any MAC team. “He’s really not far off from four-star territory.”
“The MAC has recruited the whole Midwest really well,” Helmholdt added. “I think they’ve gotten guys who have fallen through the cracks.”
“I was planning to commit later, in August,” Shaw said. “[But] COVID-19 and everything changed people’s opinions on where to go. I felt it was perfect to lock in a spot.”
Also part of the flurry of commitments over the past week were two more highly ranked Illinois juniors: Benjamin Perry, a Mount Carmel safety ranked 21st in the state by Rivals, who picked Louisville; and Nazareth wide receiver Landon Morris, who committed to Syracuse.