Sebastian Cheeks freely acknowledges becoming one of the best prep football players in Illinois wasn’t a solo effort.
On Wednesday, Cheeks was in steamy, non-air-conditioned Beardsley Gym at Evanston to announce his commitment to North Carolina. The four-star rising senior thanked many who helped him along the way, from family to coaches to friends.
But maybe the biggest boost came from two people,
“I have two older brothers [Gabriel and Logan] that have just pushed me my whole life,” Cheeks said. “And that improves everything. They’ve made me competitive.
“I remember being in the front yard, playing basketball, 2 a.m. in the morning, just going at it. I was always the youngest brother and I love to compete. I had a little bit of bang with my oldest two.”
Now, Cheeks is a 6-3, 210-pound linebacker rated fourth in Illinois, 15th nationally at his position and 131st overall in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
His 27 Power Five offers include Notre Dame, nine from the Big Ten (Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin) and six from the SEC (Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt).
In the end, College Football Hall of Famer Mack Brown, who won a national championship at Texas in 2005, won out.
The Tar Heels entered the chase earlier this year and immediately made a good impression on Cheeks.
“Honestly, they kept it authentic,” he said. “And I knew once I took my official [visit], it was pretty much a wrap.”
Cheeks said he found an immediate connection with Brown, assistant Jay Bateman and the rest of the coaching staff. And he met his deadline of making a college choice before his senior season, which starts with practice beginning Aug. 9 and the season opener on Aug. 27.
“Anytime you commit, I think it’s a little bit of weight off your shoulders,” Cheeks said. “It’s a good feeling, I’m blessed to be in this position.”
Speaking of positions, Cheeks got his first offer as a running back. He was one of two Division I prospects in the Wildkits backfield with Quadre Nicholson, who made his college debut during the abbreviated spring season with Miami (Ohio).
But Cheeks always knew where his future lay.
“I knew that I wanted to be on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “I knew I just wanted to hit.”
Maine East’s rising star
Yaser Alawadi didn’t play his first football game till he was a freshman at Maine East. He only had one more that year, a full sophomore season and then a few games during this spring’s pandemic campaign.
But with that small body of work, Alawadi is a three-star prospect at offensive tackle and one of the state’s best in the class of 2022. He’s No. 23 among Illinois’ rising seniors and in the top 150 nationally at his position according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
His size — 6-8, 300 pounds — has a lot to do with it.
“Coaches like that,” Alawadi said. “That’s the one thing you can’t teach.”
Even with recruiting being shut down for months during the pandemic, Alawadi has snagged Power Five offers from Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia.
That’s even with some schools waiting to see some film on him this fall to gauge his progression.
“I’m pretty raw,” Alawadi said. “I’m a little bit behind my class, you could say.”
Maine East coaches encouraged Alawadi, who also is a thrower for the track team, to try football and he eventually came out late in his freshman season. “They had to put me on the JV level,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
But after an offseason of working on his technique, Alawadi played on the varsity as a sophomore and college coaches started to take notice.
The future looks bright, given how much upside he can work on.
“Keeping my shoulder pads down, learning more about football,” he said. “It’s not just going out there and hitting people.”