Eric Lee, a defensive end from Alabama's Daphne High School, visited Illinois with teammate Torren McGaster this past weekend. The two are part of a high school team that is one of the best in the country. Lee attributes much of that success to the level of talent top to bottom.
"We plan to go to state again. Our team is solid on both defense and offense. Right now, we're getting underclassmen reps too. We have a lot of D-1 players on both sides of the ball."
At a school like Daphne, the amount of talent allows players to focus on one side of the ball. In turn, Lee has been able to learn a lot more about his position.
"I just play defensive end. I guess I understand the game more, so I can react better. I know the offensive formations and can make good reads. It's a matter of learning what I'm not good at."
Lee is a natural athlete, but he still wants to improve his technique to become a more complete defender for his team.
"The past 2-3 games, we've been playing a lot more zone. I want to get better at moving horizontally and improving my agility and footwork. Not so much speed as it is adjusting technique to the defense we play."
Lee plays both defensive end positions for Daphne, swapping with teammate Ryan Anderson, who is committed to Alabama. The ability to play both spots makes game planning more difficult for other teams.
"I guess just overall I'm balanced. I think people are surprised that I can flip between weakside and strongside. Our rival we played just based it off of me. Ryan Anderson is our other defensive end. People might underestimate my ability when they run at me. That might be a downside for the other team."
Lee committed to South Florida over the summer. Illinois was one of the other schools he had in the picture when he made his choice. Lee remains committed to USF, but he wanted to give Illinois a look as well.
"It's solid. I visited Illinois, and I liked it a lot. but at the same time, I liked it at USF too. I don't have much time to redo the entire recruiting process. The academics, football, and the people up at USF are good too. They have my major (Management Information Systems), so that helps a lot.
"I went up with Torren (McGaster) to check it out. I guess it was mostly to have something else to compare USF to. Coach Vic (Koenning) spoke with me during the spring too, and we have a good relationship. He wanted me to check it out and make sure I was solid in what I wanted to do."
Any chance Lee has a change of heart?
"I mean I'm still open to what colleges have to say to me, but really since it's getting toward crunch time, I need to discuss with my parents and do the best thing for me."
The Illinois defense did catch Lee's attention. The Illini defensive line has been impressive this year, and their play stood out to Lee.
"The defense is solid. The defensive line really limited the offense. We watched them practice on Friday, and they were really focused. You could tell that they were ready to play regardless, and they weren't underestimating Ohio State one bit. They came ready to play."
Lee enjoyed more than just the play on the field. The orange and blue stripes formed by Illinois fans in the stands was something Lee found pretty cool.
"It was nice. We took a tour of campus, and it was nice. It was pretty windy, but it was a pretty area. It was my first time being in Illinois, so everything was new to me. The stripe thing was neat too. I didn't know they were going to do that."
So what did Lee have to say about his teammate McGaster?
"We both liked it up there. Since he's not committed, he really liked it. But he didn't want to rush into anything since he has other schools he's looking at. He wants to give them a chance too. We both do like it up there. At first we were a bit skeptical, but the whole trip together was good."
If McGaster ends up committing to Illinois down the road, he will surely be in his teammate's ear. Lee isn't sure how likely he is to change his commitment if that happens, but he admits that he'd think about it.
"I guess it's possible. I don't know if USF has offered him yet. It's probably not likely. Sometimes it doesn't end up like that."