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The college football phenomenon owes a lot to a trim, tanned, and road-weary Barrington resident named Tom Lemming. Since 1978, Lemming, 53, has traveled the country scouting high-school football players. At first, no one seemed too interested. But his newsletter on the top athletes soon landed him a column in USA Today and some TV and radio spots. Now he produces a 282-page magazine, Prep Football Report, and stars in a cable TV show on CSTV—all while logging some 60,000 miles on the road each year. Chicago caught up with Lemming as he scouted the Lemont High School Indians under the Friday-night lights.
What are you doing in Lemont?
Lemming: For 26 years, no players were coming out of Lemont. And then a couple of years ago, I got a tip that there was an Aaron Nagel. Going into his junior year, the kid scored like, five touchdowns in one game running and made tackles on defense. So I recommended him; then Notre Dame and all the other schools came after him. So all of a sudden you’ve got this new program in the area. Instead of going to powerhouses like Joliet Catholic or Providence, kids started coming here. Right now, Lemont has a total of eight or nine guys, some juniors and seniors, who will go on to play Division I football. This is the most talented team in the state right now.
What do you look for?
Lemming: Size. See that guy over there? He could be good, but he’s obviously a lineman, and he’s not big enough. It’s tough because no matter how good he is, it’s not going to happen for him. See the guy behind him? He’s bigger—he looks like a linebacker. So right away you’ve got to watch him and see his quickness to the ball and his reactions to everything. You can watch a couple plays and tell if a guy is a Division I player.
Does a specific type of football player reside here?
Lemming: Linemen. There’s a lot of big kids in Chicago. Last year, there were 30 kids coming out of Chicago who were all close to 300 pounds. They all got Division I scholarships.
Lemming: Big parents. You get a lot of the bigger people living here, like the Germans, Polish, and Scandinavians. It’s the same in Minnesota and Wisconsin and around the Midwest. You
go to Wisconsin and no matter how many top players you’re looking at, a lot of them are going to be big linemen, like 30 or 40 of them. But if you go down south, you’ll have like one or two.
Do you ever scout a player and get it all wrong?
Lemming: Oh yeah, especially with offensive linemen. They’re tough.
How do parents get you to notice their kids if you refuse to sit on the sidelines?
Lemming: All they have to do is call me and ask me and send me some game tape. I always make sure I look at everybody’s film, even if it’s for one minute.
Photography: Katrina Wittkamp