College football coaches just recently shifted their recruiting focus to high school juniors. But there’s already a local sophomore creating a national buzz.
He’s Marist receiver Carnell Tate, part of the state’s best young pass-catch combo with junior quarterback Dontrell Jackson Jr.
Tate is ranked No. 1 in Illinois and No. 58 nationally in the Class of 2023 by 247Sports.com, the only major recruiting website out with sophomore rankings. Jackson, meanwhile, is No. 10 among Illinois juniors according to Rivals.com.
Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt sees bright futures for both.
“He’s going to be a national-type recruit,” Helmholdt said of Tate, a 6-2, 170-pounder. “You really started to see his stock rise just before everything shut down last winter, when he was doing 7-on-7 with Boom Football.”
Tate’s first offer came from Vanderbilt in December, just weeks after he helped Marist reach the Class 8A semifinals.
“I was shocked at first because I wasn’t expecting it,” said Tate, who also picked up offers from Michigan State and Cincinnati in subsequent months.
Then last week, the floodgates opened with Michigan, Notre Dame and West Virginia all offering.
Not bad for someone who started last fall on the freshman team and didn’t get promoted till Week 5.
“It was a dream come true to play varsity as a freshman,” said Tate, who began his youth football career as a quarterback before moving to running back, defensive back and finally receiver in eighth grade.
He comes from an athletic family; his dad played linebacker at Alabama A&M and one of his cousins is Christian Shumate, a Bloom grad now playing basketball at Tulsa.
Jackson, too, has sports in his blood. His dad, Dontrell Sr., starred at Thornton before going on to a successful career as a dual-threat quarterback at Ohio. The Jacksons have been reunited at Marist, where Dontrell Sr. has signed on as an assistant after stepping down as Thornton’s head coach.
Jackson, a 5-11, 183-pounder, has offers from Illinois, Akron, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic and Coastal Carolina.
“He spins one of the most beautiful footballs in this entire 2022 class,” Helmholdt said. “His size holds him back a little bit. .. (But) he shows some intangibles early on, that ability to see plays happen and make plays happen.
“As a pure passer, he’s one of the most enjoyable kids to watch.”
Jackson said recruiting “slowed down due to the pandemic,” but picked up when colleges started reaching out to juniors, with texts flooding in from various schools.
Though the IHSA has pushed back football till next spring, Jackson and Tate haven’t been idle. They’ve been working out three days a week on their own.
And they’ll be reunited with their teammates starting this week when Marist begins fall contact days.
Tate is eager to build on last year’s playoff run, which followed a 3-4 start.
“We felt great making it to the semis,” he said. “We weren’t expected to make the playoffs. We proved everybody wrong.”
Not playing fall football has Jackson of two minds.
“I call it a gift and a curse,” he said. “The curse is we can’t play, we gotta wait. The gift is everybody’s hungry. Nobody is being nonchalant about it. Everybody is coming to work.”