There may not be a bigger jump for any metro-east football recruit than going from the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference to college football’s Southeastern Conference.
For Ole Miss offensive tackle recruit and Nashville High senior Royce Newman, he’s going from games in Pinckneyville, Du Quoin and Anna-Jonesboro to taking on SEC heavyweights like national champion Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee.
“I think I’m ready for it,” Newman said Wednesday. “I won’t be the biggest guy in town any more.”
Newman (6-foot-5, 260 pounds), who flipped his commitment from Missouri to Ole Miss, visited Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis with his father on Wednesday morning for the National Football Foundation’s first signing breakfast.
More than 50 players from throughout the St. Louis region attended the signing day celebration and many took advantage of an opportunity to return their signed letters of intent.
“We faxed it off there at the country club — signed, sealed and delivered,” said Dale Newman, Royce’s father.
Once his letter of intent arrived, the social media folks at Ole Miss promptly had a Newman family photo up on Twitter. It included Royce Newman in a Rebels jersey standing alongside his father, mother Kim Newman, brother Travis Newman and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
Royce Newman is part of an Ole Miss recruiting class considered by most scouting services to be in the top four to six in the nation.
What it took to get him from Nashville, Ill., to Oxford, Miss., is a lesson in perseverance by some of the top programs in the country.
Newman is arguably one of the greatest college recruits of all time to come out of Nashville along with former Ole Miss basketball star Roger Stieg. Stieg also played briefly with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.
“There were twists and turns, there’s no doubt about it,” Dale Newman said. “It was a pretty cool experience getting to see the differrent teams and different coaches coming in, but believe me I’m glad it’s over.
“It was up to Royce and in the end result I think he found a good home.”
After Newman opened his recruiting, a steady stream of coaches found their way to the living room of his home east of Nashville.
Freeze, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley and Missouri head coach Barry Odom were among the visitors, with some assistant coaches and coordinators attending Newman’s Nashville Hornets basketball games. Coaches from Illinois, Georgia, Arkansas, Penn State and Iowa State also were in town.
The most impressive trip in and out may have been by Freeze.
“They took him in a private plane, flew him from Mount Vernon to come here to Nashville, then he turned around and flew back again,” Dale Newman said.
The family sat down to make a decision together and Ole Miss came out on top.
“We had this checklist on the schools and Ole Miss had everything,” said Royce Newman, whose Twitter feed immdiately began began filling up with greetings from football fans and well-wishers from all over the south. “It was pretty cool having people down there in Mississippi doing that.”
Althoff recruits make it official
Althoff senior Keenen Young’s decision to play football at Division I Jackson State in Jackson, Miss., wasn’t difficult since it was Young’s only offer.
Young (6-2, 215) had 78 catches for 1,189 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Crusaders (13-1).
“When I went on a game visit, I liked it a lot. It felt like home,” Young said. “It was the first team that took a chance on me. I thought it would be a good experience, so I chose Jackson State. They want to keep me at wideout. They said they liked how I catch the ball with my hands ... and they loved the way I run the slant.”
Young broke his ankle during football season last year. He returned late during basketball season, but wasn’t in the best shape. This year, he was healthy for football and has been one of Althoff’s most consistent players in basketball.
“Over the summer, I worked really, really hard to get where I’m at right now,” Young said. “I would say during football season this year, compared to last year, I was a lot stronger and faster. Every day in the summer, I worked with my trainer, E.J. Jones. I got back to feeling the strength in my ankle and (regained) my speed and agility.”
East St. Louis graduates LaMontiez Ivy and Daniel Williams are stars for Jackson State, which was 3-8 last season. Ivy played eight games at quarterback and was 171-for-282 for 2,197 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Williams had 54 catches for 800 yards and seven TDs.
The Tigers are glad to extend their connection to the metro-east.
“Keenen is just an incredible student-athlete and an incredible young man,” said Jackson State receivers coach Derrick McCall. “He was raised by a great family, and we’re just so happy and thrilled to have him be a part of our Jackson State family. He’s an athlete that personifies what we love at Jackson State.
“He’s a big-bodied athlete who can run, catch the ball well with his hands and run great routes. He’s a student of the game. We’re excited about Keenen and we hope he will come in and contribute this season. He possesses the type of skills that we feel will let him come in and help us right away.”
McCall said he was “shocked” when he saw Young on video.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is an amazing Diviison I athlete we have right here,’” McCall said. “He’s like the other two guys that came from that area. That area is loaded with talent. We’re just so pleased we’re able to tap into that area and grab some of those guys out of there. Keenen is a major Division I guy, a two- or three-star athlete.”
McCall said Young also could be a candidate to play on special teams.
“We could use his speed and athletic ability to run back kicks, to run back punts or go out there on the punt team and block some punts for us,” McCall said. “Any kind of way we can get him on the field will be helpful for us.”
Althoff coach Ken Turner called Young “one of the best I’ve coached.”
“He’s a four-year starter and a great kid to go along with it,” Turner said. “He’s been to state twice and was a big part of both of those teams in those two years (2012, 2015). I’m going to miss him. But as far as his choice of Jackson State, that’s where he felt comfortable. He’s happy, his parents are happy and I’m happy.”
Turner said Young could have played at many other Division I schools.
“I felt like a lot of schools should have taken a chance on him because I know what type of player he is and I know what type of player he’s going to be in the future,” Turner said. “It’s kind of a sad situation that he didn’t get more offers, but hey, things work out for certain reasons. Jackson State’s got one good football player and I hope he’s going to go there and prove a lot of people wrong.”
Althoff quarterback Jordan Augustine (McKendree University) and safety Ishaiah Williams (Grand View University) also signed.
The 6-2, 185-pound Augustine was the News-Democrat’s Small-School Player of the Year last fall when he completed 232-of-330 passes for a school-record 3,720 yards and 40 touchdowns.
“Coach (Mike) Babcock, I liked him a lot,” Augustine said. “He recruited me the hardest and made me feel the most wanted out of all my college choices. The program is on the rise and when I went on my visit, I liked the school and liked the people there.
“I ran a similar offense in high school: fast tempo, spread. I’ll have an advantage over other guys a coming in because it’s the same concepts and tempo. I’m used to running an offense like that. I’ll have good targets to throw to, a good line and a smart offensive coordinator.”
The 6-0, 175-pound Williams had 45 tackles and five sacks last season after catching 14 passes for 149 yards as a junior.
Grand View State is an NAIA school located in Des Moines, Iowa, that was 11-2 last season.
“Coach (Travis) Johansen has been recruiting me for a while now,” Williams said of the Vikings’ secondary coach. “I went to a couple of camps this year and he said he was watching my film and liked how I played. He said I’m pretty strong on the field, and fast, so he wanted me to come into their program.
“So I went up there for a visit and they talked about how much they wanted me. I’m their No. 1 recruit. I liked the environment a lot. It’s a small school like Althoff, so I’m going to do well with that. I’m just ready to play. They’re going to use me at strong safety and corner and they said I might play some offense, too.”
Williams chose Grand View over McKendree, William Penn, Towson and Robert Morris-Chicago.