Raffelson, Venegoni make splash for WIU

Eastern Illinois may have picked up its running back of the future with Schaumburg's Shepard Little. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

Western Illinois isn't one to normally grab too many football recruiting headlines, but the Leathernecks recently made a huge splash by receiving commitments from ESPNChicago.com All-Area senior linebackers Lake Zurich's JJ Raffelson and Carmel's Luke Venegoni.

Raffelson, who was in the running for ESPNChicago.com's Defensive Player of the Year, was the catalyst behind the state's top defense. He had 119 tackles and 23 tackles for a loss. He also had a team-high eight tackles in the Class 7A state championship game.

"He spent a tremendous amount of time in the offseason working his speed development as well as in the film room," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. "He has logged a lot of hours studying the opponent. He knows how they're going to act and what we're going to do."

Venegoni was the defensive leader for another one of the state's top defenses. He had 120 tackles, 63 solo tackles, six tackles for a loss and two sacks this season for the Corsairs.

"Luke Venegoni is extremely fast and strong," Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. "He worked very hard in the offseason to position himself to be the defensive player of the year in the ESCC."

Western Illinois is coming off one its best seasons. A year after going 1-10, the Leathernecks were 8-5 this season and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs.

Not to be outdone, Eastern Illinois likely picked up its running back of the future when Schaumburg senior Shepard Little recently committed to the Panthers.

Little, who was an ESPNChicago.com All-Area selection, rushed for 1,897 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.

"I think his vision is good," Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said. "I think he's sneaky powerful for his size. I don't think you expect someone of his size to hit you like he does. His ability to hit you and make you miss, that's the tough part. His speed is good, but it's not great. He's not going to run past everyone on Friday night, but he's going to make everyone miss."