By Steve Sturm - IlliniGuys Football Contributor
July 1, 2021
Illinois broke with its recent pattern of seeking commitments from Illinois and midwestern recruits by securing a pledge from Ashton Hollins of Lucedale, Mississippi. Hollins is currently unrated by either of the two major recruiting outlets and there are no reported offers on any of his profiles. However, keeping that in mind, Wide Receiver Coach/Assistant Head Coach George McDonald reportedly saw Hollins at a camp and offered him a visit on the spot. Hollins then made his way up to Champaign last weekend and must have shown enough to justify an offer.
What does he bring to the Orange and Blue?
Hollins is an interesting athlete. Illinois believes that he is an outside receiver and I do too. However, you'll see in this highlight that Hollins primarily plays quarterback and plays a little bit of safety as well.
In the clips we can see in this brief video, Hollins shows pretty good speed (a reported 4.4 at the camp where McDonald saw him) and an uncanny knack for being "slippery", which is a function of good core strength. I don't think I've seen such a "slippery" athlete coming to Champaign since Isaiah Williams. Plus, at 6'4, Hollins will bring rare size to the position. I believe that Hollins' agility is also pretty darn good given his ability to evade tacklers. He shows some body control on a couple of those catches as well.
Though Hollins' film at quarterback is mediocre, I have to add that he has apparently crossed the border from George County High School into Alabama to play his senior year and his new staff in Semmes, Alabama has apparently done wonders with his throwing form, because his video from the spring game shows an impressive improvement.
On the downside, this film shows Hollins taking an agonizingly long time to stop and start and change directions. He takes a lot of slow steps to change directions more than a few degrees so he's going to need a lot of work before he can run a complete route tree, and the fact that he's primarily playing quarterback this fall won't help that development. However, McDonald saw Hollins working in receiver drills recently and he sees enough there for an offer.
Where does he fit in?
A few things have changed since I wrote the spotlight on Eian Pugh a few days ago. Eight Illini have officially left the program, including wide receivers James Frenchie and Kyron Cumby. Therefore, when Hollins arrives in Champaign in 2022, Illinois will have Brian Hightowner, Khamari Thompson, and Jafar Armstrong leading the way as big "outside" receivers together with Donny Navarro as a presumptive slot receiver. Hollins will then join the next wave of big outside receivers with fellow big men Pugh, Dalveon Campbell, Pat Bryant and Peyton Vining. Newcomer Hank Beatty will join fellow slot guys Isaiah Williams and Marquez Beason. I'm interested to see what Offensive Coordinator Tony Petersen has in store this fall, but so far he appears to be recruiting receivers that are either very big or very small.
However, it's a little misleading to place Hollins on that depth chart at this point, because there's no question that he's going to be more of a project than the others. Not only will Hollins need to add some significant weight to his 170 pound frame (though I have to add that the Spring tape shows a bigger Hollins than the Fall highlights), Hollins is going to need a lot of skill work at his new position of wide receiver. I would be shocked if Hollins is ready to play in the fall of 2022, or even 2023.
Having said that, I'm pretty excited about this addition. Hollins clearly looks like a future Big Ten player to me. I can see him being a very similar player to Pugh with some hard work and I imagine that he'll be a low 3 star player when the rating systems catch up. I think its also pretty notable that McDonald offered him when he knew he had all the names listed above at his disposal in the receiver room. Illinois has to be full up on receivers in the class of 2022 at this point, yet McDonald offered Hollins despite having a few other midwestern guys interested in that last spot. It also doesn't hurt that Hollins has some ability as a quarterback either for purposes of gadget plays or a switch of positions down the line (however unlikely). So, even though Hollins has no rating and no offers, I'm giving him a five on the 10 point "excitement scale".
(Cover photo courtesy Ashton Hollins)
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