The 90 Illini #80: Blaise Sparks
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I'm probably going to say the same thing for the intro of all these posts: "This seems too low for him, because he might find his way onto the two-deep, but still, I have 12 other offensive linemen in front of him so 80 is probably correct". That's an actual stat, by the way - I have 12 offensive linemen in front of Sparks. A few years ago we had 11 scholarship linemen on the entire roster. This year, there's five scholarship linemen who didn't even make The 90 Illini.
It's seriously going to be two months from now and I'm going to be saying the same thing. With these 21 Super Seniors back, the numbers at each position during practice will be staggering. There will be walkons on the offensive line who will look at the depth chart on the wall and see themselves on the 5th string. Who has a 5th string anything?
80. Blaise Sparks
Uniform number: 74
Year in school: Redshirt Freshman (4 years to play 4; with the Covid rule, technically 5 years to play 4)
Height: 6'-7" -- Weight: 295 lbs.
Hometown: North Fort Meyers, Florida
High School: North Fort Meyers HS
Five best offers: Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Temple, Tulane
Tom Cruise rating:
2020 statistics: Played in one game (Penn State).
Somewhere, someone asked me about players who might benefit from the coaching change and the scheme change (on a radio thing, maybe?). One of the players I mentioned was Blaise Sparks. As you can see from the Hunter Whitenack commitment, this staff (as expected) is looking for really big tackles. Wisconsin-like tackles. And Sparks has the biggest frame of any of the younger linemen. Broad shoulders, long arms, almost too tall.
As I recall, Sparks was down to Pittsburgh and Illinois, visited both places in the summer, and committed to Illinois. Last year was going to be a redshirt year but then it was a "redshirt" year for everyone. He did play in one game (the interim coaches tried to give everyone a few snaps once the Penn State game was a blowout), so he was out there for a drive at the end of the Penn State game. What would have been a redshirt just turned out to be a regular old "this season didn't count", so now he's a freshman again.
There's one "spot" still available, I think, even though it's not a spot where you'll get on the field. That spot: 4th tackle. We can be pretty sure that the starting tackles will be Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski, and we can be almost certain that the backup (for both spots) will be Julian Pearl. Pearl is technically the backup right tackle, so if we're filling out the depth chart, the one "spot" that's still up in the air (for me) is backup left tackle. The competitors: Brevyn Jones, Evan Kirts, Moses Okpala, and Blaise Sparks.
You haven't seen Jones, Kirts, or Okpala on The 90 Illini yet so I guess I just gave away the answer. Jones, Kirts, and Okpala are all a year ahead of Sparks, so I have all of them ahead of Sparks on the depth chart. Next year, though, both Lowe and Palcho graduate. So that battle for the "4th tackle" spot this year is really a battle for "starter opposite Julian Pearl in 2022."
So that's the plan for Sparks. Redshirt this year. And then, as a third-year redshirt freshman next year, enter that battle for the other starting tackle spot.