Prep Zone: Wrestler likely will sign with Illinois

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Richmond-Burton senior wrestler Jordan Blanton experienced four whirlwind days from Thursday through Sunday.

It all started with a phone call Blanton?s mother received Thursday morning from Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands. It ended Sunday with Illinois coach Mark Johnson visiting the Blantons? home for 2 hours Sunday afternoon.

Blanton, who committed to Iowa in May, withdrew his commitment over the weekend and probably will sign with Illinois sometime next week. He plans to visit Champaign this weekend with his parents (Jack and Stacey), at which point he could make his commitment to the Fighting Illini official.

?I can?t believe how it happened,? said Blanton, R-B?s 171-pounder who owns a 111-1 career record and won two Class A state championships.

Blanton said Brands called Thursday to tell the Blantons that Jordan?s scholarship, originally a full ride, would be cut for his freshman year to 60 percent. For his final three years, it would be a full scholarship.

Blanton said Iowa was trying to find money for an All-American who was granted another red-shirt season.

?It didn?t sit well with me,? Blanton said. ?They were changing things around before I even set foot on campus. I felt like I wasn?t that big of a deal. They wanted an answer Thursday night.?

So Blanton?s answer was, ?No thanks.? He decommitted, becoming a free agent less than a week before the NCAA signing period, which starts Wednesday.

Traci Wagner, an assistant in the Iowa sports information department, said the Hawkeyes coaching staff could not comment on an athlete until he signed his national letter-of-intent.

?I wasn?t as devastated as I thought I?d be,? said Blanton, whose only high school loss was an 8-2 decision to Montini?s Mike Benefiel in last year?s Class AA 171-pound state championship match. ?I prayed a lot about it. I believe everything happens for a reason.?

It turns out that R-B assistant wrestling coach Tyrone Byrd was a four-time NCAA qualifier when he competed at Illinois. Byrd was in Champaign Saturday and spoke to Johnson. Byrd then informed Blanton that Johnson was very interested and had a scholarship available.

Blanton stopped short of offering Johnson a hard commitment, although it likely is forthcoming. Blanton plans to visit Champaign this weekend and probably would bring his letter-of-intent home so he could sign it at the high school.

Cwynar a finalist: Marian Central senior Sean Cwynar has been selected as one of three finalists for the inaugural IHSA/ Football Player of the Year. Cwynar (6-foot-4, 285 pounds) plays offensive tackle and defensive end and was a Northwest Herald All-Area first team selection last season.

Cwynar, who committed to Notre Dame in March, has helped the Hurricanes (10-2) back to the IHSA Class 5A playoff semifinals for the second consecutive season. Marian plays at Morris (10-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The other two finalists are Chicago Mount Carmel linebacker Steve Filer and Montini two-way lineman Garrett Goebel. Filer will play with Cwynar at Notre Dame, Goebel committed to Ohio State.

?I?m excited [about the honor], but mostly I?m excited about this week of practice and, hopefully, next week of practice,? Cwynar said. ?I?m just enjoying this with my friends and everything.?

The winner will be announced on Saturday, Nov. 24 at Illinois? Memorial Stadium, the site of the state championship games.

Casts away: Three Marian players ? Jack Gilleland, Brett Leahy and Kevin Green ? all had casts removed from their hands Monday.

Rumors were uncomfirmed that Marian?s training staff may put one back on Leahy?s hand for Saturday?s game since he grabbed a team-high two interceptions while wearing the cast.

? Joe Stevenson covers high school sports for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4513. He also can be reached by fax at 815-459-5640 or by e-mail at