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January 17, 2013
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CRETE, Ill. -- One year ago, Laquon Treadwell was thinking about a lot of schools as his potential college homes.
He wasn't, however, thinking about Ole Miss.
On Thursday afternoon, Treadwell committed to the Rebels, giving Ole Miss its highest-ranked high school commitment in the program's history. Treadwell, a five-star prospect ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's best wide receiver and No. 10 overall player, chose Ole Miss over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Michigan and others.
Treadwell's announcement Thursday night likely prompted one question all over the college football world. It was on the mind of the coach of Treadwell's summer 7-on-7 team, Core 6, on Tuesday night. Contacted by this reporter for input for this story, Paul Szczesny said, "How are they getting these guys?"
The answer, according to Treadwell and the people around him, isn't complicated. Treadwell focused on the Rebels early. He spent the fall trying to get his mother, Tami Treadwell, to do the same.
"I couldn't stop talking about Ole Miss," Treadwell said. "I wanted to go back. I wanted to go to the bowl game. I wanted to be around the coaches. ...I fell in love."
Treadwell jelled with Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, wide receivers coach Grant Heard and co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff quickly in the recruiting process.
"They all made me feel comfortable from the jump," Treadwell said.
WHO IS LAQUON TREADWELL?: Treadwell's ascension to elite national recruit wasn't a shock to anyone in Crete. He began turning heads as a seventh-grader in nearby University Park, which feeds into the Crete-Monee school system.
"We knew he was pretty talented," Crete-Monee assistant coach John Konecki said.
Treadwell played quarterback through the ninth grade. Crete-Monee had a critical need for wide receivers prior to Treadwell's sophomore season, so then-Warriors coach Jerry Verde moved him to a new spot.
"Early on, I think there were some growing pains," Konecki said. "Once he got more comfortable on the field and developed more spatial awareness, it became pretty evident to everybody that was watching him that he was a special player."
Midway through that 2010 season, the Warriors' defensive line was depleted by injury. Verde moved his newfound wide receiver sensation to defensive end on a part-time basis.
"We just didn't have any toughness at that position," said Verde, who recently left Crete-Monee to become the head coach at his alma mater, Marian Catholic. "He was outstanding there. He's so physical."
"He is football-tough," Konecki said. "He is physical. He is much stronger than I think anyone would believe that he would be. He likes to play football. He likes to win."
[Related: Five-star step for Rebels]
Still, there was a voila moment for Verde and the rest of the Crete-Monee staff, a specific play where everyone involved knew Treadwell was on a meteoric path to gridiron greatness.
"We were in the first round of the (2010) playoffs. We were playing at Normal West and we were losing," Verde said. "We threw him a quick screen to the sideline. He ran over two kids, and then he ran past the rest. We all looked at each other like, 'Wow.'"
Ole Miss cornerback Anthony Standifer talks about his best friend.
A (5) STAR IS BORN
From there, Treadwell's stock soared. He dominated the 7-on-7 circuit that summer and was a standout at area and regional camps.
Szczesny had worked with Crete-Monee cornerback Anthony Standifer the previous summer. Standifer brought Treadwell with him to a Core 6 practice early that summer.
"I remember the first thing he attended was an open football practice," Szczesny said "There was just something about him, the way he carried himself. We knew right away he was going to be one of the top players.
"One of the things that stood out for us was he's a physical player. He loves contact. When he was in high school, he first played defensive end. I think that's what stands out. He can make every catch and he can just throw defensive backs off the line."
[Related: Second trip seals it for Tami Treadwell]
Colleges flocked to Crete-Monee in 2011 to see Standifer. When they did, they checked in on Treadwell.
"My mentality changed," Treadwell told the Chicago Tribune. "I stopped hanging out, being around everybody all the time and going to parties. I knew sooner or later it would blow up on me. I started focusing on what is important and got my priorities straight."
From that point forward, Treadwell blossomed, and the recruiting process took on a life of its own.
"He's the most competivite, hard working kid I've ever been around that has the skill set that he is," Konecki said. "Honestly, for us, we knew he was going to be highly recruited. Pretty big college programs started telling us he was the best one or the top five or the top 10 wide receivers in the country."
Treadwell had a huge junior season, followed by another dominant camp circuit. Konecki said he never worried that the attention from college coaches would go to Treadwell's head. It didn't.
"We never had any issues," Konecki said. "He's intrinsically motivated to be the best. What I thought was great watching him grow up was the realization started taking place that he could develop other people's games by challenging them.
"I've been impressed with how he's handled everything. I've been impressed with how he's handled every major college recruiting him. He's the same kid now as when he walked in the building."
Konecki recalled seeing Treadwell grant an interview to a reporter after a summer camp event at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. Treadwell chewed gum throughout the on-camera interview. The next day, Konecki playfully scolded the young wide receiver. Treadwell took the advice to heart.
"It was kind of neat to see the evolution of him, interacting with media and interacting with the people he came in contact with," Konecki said.
"He's fun to be around. He doesn't take himself seriously, but he takes his play seriously," Verde added. "He's just genuinely a nice kid. He cares about others. I think he's mature enough that he's genuinely accepted his pseudo-celebrity."
Treadwell took his game to a new level as a senior. He posted 81 catches for 1,424 yards and 16 touchdowns. He added 257 yards and seven touchdowns rushing and recorded 56 tackles and six interceptions as a free safety. More importantly, he willed the Warriors to a state title, the first in the program's history.
"For me, coaching the game, it was just him playing his game," Verde said. "When I watched the game later, it was much more impressive to watch it the second time."
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
The season, which was capped with a 33-26 win over Cary-Grove in Champaign on Nov. 24, captivated the town.
"I think this year, obviously, took things to a new level," Crete Village President Michael Einhorn said. "They've had a pretty good football team the last couple of years, but Crete was not always blessed with such good results. It has brought a new level of recognition and local pride that has never before been seen in this area."
Einhorn said only 20 percent of the households in Crete, a village of approximately 8,000 residents located 40 miles south of downtown Chicago, have school-age children. The Warriors' success made fans of many in the community who had no direct tie to the school. Treadwell's celebrity, meanwhile, became "the talk of the town, at least in that segment of the town that follows this kind of stuff," Einhorn said. "He appears to be a very down-to-earth type of person.
[Recruiting: Ole Miss a national rankings riser]
"I've met him on a couple of occasions, and I didn't read anything into him that causes him to be anything but a genuinely good kid. I think he knows what his role is, obviously."
Treadwell's fan base grew exponentially in the fall of 2012. Elementary school students clamored to see the Warriors' star wide receiver. Former students began returning to Crete each weekend to see their alma mater win games.
"Crete has very deep roots," Crete-based real estate agent Sue Rossi said. "The level of community excitement was kind of enhanced. It was a pretty exciting time. All of the kids are following him on Twitter. I know my boys follow him."
Two of Rossi's sons, ages 22 and 23, traveled to Champaign for the state title game. Her elementary-school granddaughter caught a case of Warrior fever. This week, the town's been abuzz in anticipation of Treadwell's announcement.
"It's been very good for the entire community across the board," Rossi said. "As a realtor, the benefits of this are far-reaching. Strong schools demand strong demand for community. It all works together in one nice cycle. When something this big happens to a town, it shines a spotlight on other benefits that might not have been noticed."
As of Thursday at midday, Treadwell had accrued 11,152 Twitter followers. Crete-Monee athletic director Gene Cahan isn't following Treadwell on the popular social network, but he's become a big fan.
Cahan's son is a Florida alumnus, and Cahan has jokingly recruited Treadwell for the Gators, reminding the star athlete that "all the pretty girls are in Florida." Each time the two have the conversation, Treadwell laughs and beats Cahan to the punch line.
What won Cahan over, however, had nothing to do with recruiting or pretty girls. On the day after Thanksgiving, a day in which the Warriors practiced for the state championship game, Cahan learned that Treadwell had traveled to Chicago after practice to work as a volunteer at a food shelter.
"Instead of going home to eat Thanksgiving dinner, he served it to the homeless," Cahan said. "Now we work around some great kids, but that's not common. He didn't tell me about it. Someone else did. I was impressed."
A BRIGHT FUTURE
While Konecki has already turned his attention to replacing Treadwell at Crete-Monee, Ole Miss coaches are very likely already salivating at the prospect of using his skills to the Rebels' advantage.
"Players like that, they're special," Konecki said. "The production that he's had over the past couple of years will be difficult to replace. Guys will strive to it. Anytime you have players like Laquon Treadwell in your program, the younger guys look up to it and it starts to push them to dream big dreams."
Verde said Treadwell is "easily" the best player he's ever coached. Asked if he expects Treadwell to be an instant impact player in college, Verde answered in the affirmative before this reporter could finish the question. Why so sure?
"He has both the physical and mental parts," Verde said. "He could run our entire offense and our entire defense. He could run all of our special teams."
"I have no doubt that as soon as he steps on campus, as long as he keeps working hard, he'll have an instant impact," Szczesny said, comparing Treadwell to Alabama freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns for the national champion Crimson Tide. "He's got high potential. I think everyone knows that. It's about him getting into the right program and those coaches getting the most out of his potential. No doubt, he has the skills to be a first-day NFL (draft) guy. It's about coaches maximizing his potential."
FIRST THING'S FIRST
Treadwell admitted that he already thinks about the NFL. But for now, his focus is on the next 19 days. He's solid to Ole Miss, so now he wants to use his influence to help land future teammates. There has been speculation that Treadwell could help Ole Miss land commitments from several other highly-ranked prospects.
"It's not recruiting hype at all," Treadwell said. "I really think that's true. I talk to all the big commits that are coming to play at Ole Miss. They're really looking forward to coming to Ole Miss. Other big pieces are going to fall into place."
If that happens, Treadwell said, Ole Miss will be taking a big step as a program during his time in Oxford.
"All we need are a couple of big pieces," Treadwell said. "A lot of good programs can build. We have to build up. Once we get a domino effect on recruiting, it will help the program."