High school football notebook: Tommy Ulatowski commits to Kent State, Illini recruiting coup, state finals on the move?

Like a lot of other high school kids whose recruiting was upended by the pandemic, St. Rita’s Tommy Ulatowski needed a backup plan.

SHARE High school football notebook: Tommy Ulatowski commits to Kent State, Illini recruiting coup, state finals on the move?
St. Rita’s Tommy Ulatowski (16) passes the ball during the game against Wheaton North.

St. Rita’s Tommy Ulatowski (16) passes the ball during the game against Wheaton North.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Like a lot of other high school kids whose recruiting was upended by the pandemic, St. Rita’s Tommy Ulatowski needed a backup plan.

Unlike most, he was talented enough to be a Division I prospect in two sports.

Last year, Ulatowski made a verbal commitment to Creighton baseball as an outfielder.

He’s also a football quarterback who’s been part of two state finalist teams and three CCL/ESCC champions.

But even though the pandemic wiped out Ulatowski’s entire sophomore baseball season, it had an even bigger impact on his football career. His junior season looked like it wouldn’t get played until a Hail Mary allowed for a six-game spring season with no playoffs.

“I wasn’t sure what kind of [college] football opportunity I’d get,” Ulatowski said. “I had always loved baseball too.”

So when Creighton baseball coach Ed Servais made an unusual offer last year, Ulatowski jumped on it.

“The coach had an agreement with me, ‘If you commit to us right now, if a football opportunity comes up in the fall, I’ll be supportive,’” Ulatowski said.

Even though Ulatowski guided the Mustangs back to the IHSA state finals in 2021, there wasn’t much football interest, however. His lone scholarship offer was from FCS Northern Iowa — not enough to sway him from a Power Five baseball opportunity.

Ulatowski didn’t give up hope, but it wasn’t an easy time.

“After my [senior football] year, I’m just waiting for the phone call, keeping that positive attitude,” he said. “I knew there was going to be a place for me.”

St. Rita coach Todd Kuska worked his connections to help Ulatowski.

“He tried sending my stuff out to every coach he could think of,” Ulatowski said.

Finally, in January, it paid off. Kent State, coached by Richards grad Sean Lewis, reached out to Kuska and then came to St. Rita to talk to Ulatowski.

The result was a preferred walk-on offer with a promise that he’d be on equal footing with all the other quarterbacks competing for playing time.

On March 1, Ulatowski announced via Twitter that he’d be going to Kent State for football instead of Creighton for baseball.

Kuska thinks Kent State is getting a good one.

“I think the intangibles he has, the difference in him is the leadership, the ability to get guys to rally around him,” Kuska said.

Ulatowski is just glad his future is finally settled.

“It’s been a hectic couple of months,” he said. “A couple months of, ‘What am I gonna do? Football is where my heart’s at.’

“Now that it’s set in stone, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders. I know what I’m going to do.”

Illini recruiting coup

When Bret Bielema took the Illinois job, he promised a renewed focus on keeping the state’s best talent at home.

The Illini’s first recruit in the class of 2023 is evidence of that. Kaden Feagin, a four-star running back/athlete from tiny Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, committed to Illinois on Wednesday, his 18th birthday.

Feagin, a 6-2, 235-pounder is the consensus No. 3 player in the state in his class behind Alleman offensive tackle Charles Jagusah and East St. Louis offensive tackle Myles McVay.

New home for state finals?

It appears the rotating host sites for the state finals will end this year. It’s the last year of a 10-year deal that had Illinois’ Memorial Stadium and Northern Illinois’ Huskie Stadium alternating hosting duties.

The IHSA has posted a request for proposals to host from 2023-27 that calls for a single site with a minimum seating capacity of 12,000. Proposals are due by Sept. 2, with an expected IHSA Board of Directors decision in December.

The rotating sites plan was a product of Illinois’ desire to continue hosting IHSA games in years when it didn’t have a home game of its own. It’s unclear whether Illinois or NIU would be interested in being sole hosts.

But there is speculation that Illinois State — whose Hancock Stadium has undergone a major rehab since it last was home to state in 1998 — would be interested in regaining its host role.

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