High school football notebook: Malik Elzy quickly catches on, Aidan Gray picks Northwestern, Illini start hot

The Class of 2023 prospect in the area hasn’t been playing the sport all that long.

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Simeon’s Malik Elzy (8) runs the ball against Kenwood.

Simeon’s Malik Elzy (8) runs the ball against Kenwood.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The top Class of 2023 prospect in the area hasn’t been playing the sport all that long.

Simeon’s Malik Elzy is an elite two-way player as a receiver and defensive back with the size — 6-foot-3, 198 pounds — and speed to attract more than two dozen Division I scholarship offers. Among them: Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Illinois and seven other Big Ten teams, and four SEC programs (Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Vanderbilt).

But unlike some other top recruits. Elzy wasn’t putting on pads when he was a little kid.

“I really wasn’t playing organized football until seventh-grade year at Ogden Park,” he said. “I played basketball, ran track, did all that, flag football.”

But it was just a matter of time before he gravitated to the sport in which he’s No. 4 among Illinois players in 247sports.com’s composite rankings for the class of 2023.

“My dream was always to play football,” said Elzy, whose; older brother Devonte also played at Simeon before continuing his career at Division II Northwood.

Now Elzy is getting plenty of attention even in a time when college coaches are spending as much time scouring the transfer portal as looking at high schoolers.

There’s a reason for that, according to Rivals analyst Clint Cosgrove: “His physical skill set. He’s got the height, weight, length and the frame to gain a lot more mass. He passes the eyeball test.

“He can be that big flex receiver that can cause nightmares [for defenses].”

But Elzy is more than the sum of his considerable physical attributes, according to Cosgrove.

“He’s very intelligent,” Cosgrove said. “He checks all the boxes from character to physical, athletic, ball skills.”

Elzy said the recruiting process is in high gear, but won’t drag on. 

“I’m taking some more visits, I don’t know where yet,” he said. 

His most recent visits, mentioned on Twitter, were to Cincinnati and Nebraska.

Bottom line, Elzy said, “I want to commit before the season.”

Aidan Gray commits to Cats

Northwestern continued its trend of finding talent close to home when it picked up a commitment from Naperville North quarterback Aidan Gray in February. Gray, a 6-3, 185-pounder, is a three-star prospect ranked 16th in the 247sports.com composite rankings for Illinois seniors. 

Cosgrove likes the Wildcats’ class of 2023 recruits in general and Gray in particular.

“Their early returns are fantastic,” Cosgrove said. “The thing I know about Fitz [coach Pat Fitzgerald] is he knows which kids can fit the [Northwestern] profile and can win with them.”

Gray, Prospect receiver Frank Covey IV and Joliet Catholic offensive lineman Anthony Birsa are part of a six-member Northwestern class ranked in the top half of the Big Ten.

“I love Aidan Gray,” Cosgrove said. “I love his mobility, I love his mindset.”

Illini off to good start

With just two commits in the incoming senior class, Illinois doesn’t have the quantity of some other Big Ten teams. But the Illini do have quality with four-star athlete Kaden Feagin from Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond and three-star linebacker Antwon Hayden from East St. Louis.

“They put themselves in a position with a lot of top-end recruits that the previous staff maybe wouldn’t have recruited,” Cosgrove said of Illini coach Bret Bielema and his assistants. “To get a kid like Feagin — he’s a physical specimen with a high level of athletic ability — that’s their first big-time win. ...

“[Bielema] has made it clear he wants to win with Illinois kids. They put in the work, they see it’s starting to pay off.”

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