Tire pulls and 'home run' plays: The moment area NFL Draft prospects showed elite talent
Two former Peoria-area high school football players are expected to hear their names called this weekend in the NFL Draft — the next step in their futures.
In his own words:Illini lineman Kendrick Green ready for NFL Draft fate
'This boy's gonna be all right'
Peoria High coach Tim Thornton remembers Green's toughness first becoming apparent during a competition drill in the summer before his freshman season, a towel drill or tire pull — something that had little to do with football.
"He out-toughed some senior as a freshman," Thornton said. "The coaches just looked at each other and said, 'This boy's gonna be all right.' "
Green was undersized, but went on to play interior line that season, providing stability up front and "getting the offense started," Thornton said. Green grew into a role where he was on the field as much as possible, eventually starting both ways for the 2016 Class 5A state champion.
"He attacked the weight room," Thornton said. "He'd come over in his baseball uniform and ask to get into the weight room. He'd come to me and say 'I have a wrestling match tonight, but I wanna get in the weight room' "
Green played some defense at Illinois, but eventually moved to offensive line and became an all-American. Green will come full circle this weekend when he's likely to be picked in the middle rounds in part because of his versatility as an interior offensive lineman.
Toughness and agility and football skills aside, Thornton said Green's attitude is something that stands out above all.
"He has an ability to demand more of his teammates," Thornton said. "He can say 'I've put in the work, but I need you to work with me.' He earned the right to ask for more here and went on to the U of I and did the same thing.
"Who ever gets him, I think he'll have that impact at the next level."
'He turned it into a home run'
Uphoff proved to be more of a late-bloomer, says Washington coach Darrell Crouch, who said it wasn't until maybe Uphoff's junior season that he saw the next-level potential.
"That's when his athletic ability started to shine," Crouch said. "By the time he was a senior, he was special. Doing phenomenal things for us."
Crouch remembers one game against East Peoria in which the Panthers faced third down and about 25 yards. Crouch called a safe play in an attempt to just pick up some yardage and make for a shorter punt.
"He takes this bubble screen and turns it into a touchdown," Crouch said. "These are the types of things that stand out. He turned it into a home run."
Crouch marveled as Uphoff's continual growth as a player, up until seeing Uphoff's work in the Senior Bowl, especially against the run. A quick and versatile weapon in high school — shining as a receiver, defensive back and kick returner — Uphoff took an even bigger step forward at ISU, says Crouch.
"When you get bigger and stronger, you get that confidence," Crouch said. "He's really maximized the opportunities that have been afforded to him."
Uphoff is expected to picked in the late rounds on Saturday, or at least signed as a top-level undrafted free agent. Crouch is effusive in praise about that idea, but is prouder of something else Uphoff did since leaving Washington.
"He went there and got his degree," Crouch said. "I'm super happy for him to get a chance at the next level, but I am more proud of that."
Wes Huett is Journal Star sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WesHuett.