The 90 Illini #32: Calvin Hart Jr.
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Feels like we're firmly in the regular rotation now. 11 starters on offense, 11 starters on defense, kicker, punter, 'snapper - that's 25. I covered the starting longsnapper yesterday at #33, so the top-33 on this list would be the 25 starters plus the eight main subs. The 33 Illini football players who will determine the success or failure of Bret Bielema's first season. THE 33 ILLINI.
(90 sounds better.)
32. Calvin Hart Jr.
Uniform number: 5
Year in school: Sophomore (without the Covid waiver, 2 years to play 2; with the Covid waiver, technically 3 years to play 3)
Height: 6'-1" -- Weight: 230 lbs.
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Former School: NC State
Five best offers: Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Iowa, Mississippi State, Kentucky
Tom Cruise rating:
2020 statistics: Played in 10 games at NC State. 18 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.
During one of his press conferences this spring, Bret Bielema noted that when he contacted Dave Doeren to inquire about his linebacker in the transfer portal, Doeren said that he really didn't want to lose Hart. He'll just be a sophomore this fall, and NC State had plans for him to be in future rotations. Perhaps Doeren was just being nice to the guy he used to work for (Doeren was Bielema's defensive coordinator at Wisconsin), but at the time I looked up NC State's linebacker depth and I found out why Hart transferred.
At one inside 'backer spot, NC State has Payton Wilson who might be the ACC Defensive Player of the Year this season. He led the ACC in tackles last year. And at the other inside 'backer spot is Isaiah Moore who was 8th in the ACC in tackles last year. Both are future NFL guys - one a junior, one a sophomore. So when you're stuck behind two linebackers who might both be first-team All ACC, well, you transfer.
And thanks to Covid, Hart transfers with three years of eligibility. Take away the play-right-away rule and the "2020 didn't count" rule and he'd have one year left. He'd be a junior sitting this year and then would play one season in 2022. Now, he has eligibility for 2021, 2022, and 2023.
List of things Calvin Hart has going for him:
- Power Five experience in Dave Doeren's defense at NC State.
- Went through all of spring ball as Ryan Walters installed the defense. Of the linebackers who will likely play (Hansen, Hart, Tolson, Barnes, and Cooper), Hart was the only one participating in the spring.
- He's a Bielema recruit. The other four signed up to play in Lovie's defense (well, Hansen signed up to play for Bill Cubit), but Hart was recruited this winter specifically to play in this defense.
So while I'm a fan of Tarique Barnes and think that he'll be a big factor in future defenses, I have Calvin Hart ahead of him. I still believe this is the year where Khalan Tolson makes a big leap, so I can't put Hart ahead of Tolson (or Hansen), but I do think he'll be a big factor (mostly due to that list above).
Two inside 'backer spots, five guys fighting for those two starting spots, and right now, I have Hart #3 on that list.