Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman had a successful three year stint at Toledo, but trying to compete against several highly successful Big 10 programs is an even tougher requirement. Fortunately, the recent commitment of superstar Aaron Bailey may be just what the doctor ordered to get his Illini career off to a good start.
Beckman had received commitments from linemen Jesse Chadwell and Christian DiLauro, running back Kendrick Foster and defensive back Dillan Cazley previously. All are good players, but Bailey's commitment is special for a number of reasons.
First of all, Bailey is rated a four-star by Scout.com, the fourth best dual threat quarterback in the country. He led Bolingbrook to a 21-17 victory over Loyola Academy in the Illinois class 8-A state championship last November.
In that game, he ran for a net 149 yards and two touchdowns while completing 8 of 13 passes for an additional 140 yards. He was by far the dominant player in the game, and his fame is recognized far and wide.
Secondly, he is seen as a possible pied piper to attract other star players. His early decision could have a major impact by making Illinois an attractive possibility for other top players. There are always doubts when a program fires its head coach, but Bailey's decision gives Beckman's program credibility with other prospects.
Plus, Bailey knows many prospects personally. He has worked with them at combines, competed against them in high school and 7 on 7's and visited schools together with them. He is intelligent, charming and charismatic; his smile alone attracts supporters. And his tremendous athleticism conjures visions of college greatness others might wish to share with him.
That is particularly true for offensive linemen. They want to block for players they know can make them look good. Bailey is a tremendous runner, and he is also a much better passer than many realize. Linemen able to both open holes and pass protect for him will be rewarded many times over.
Among linemen within the state of Illinois, Ethan Pocic, Jack Keeler and Logan Tuley-Tillman come to mind as those who might be influenced by Bailey's decision. Lemont's Pocic is the younger brother of Illini senior center Graham Pocic, and he is being recruited nationally. Keeler is a Barrington product who's capabilities are also being recognized by some big programs.
Tuley-Tillman is from Peoria rather than the Chicago area, but he is well aware of Bailey's exploits. He has committed to Michigan but has not yet told Illini coaches to stop recruiting him. Perhaps he will now re-think his decision. Bailey is no doubt talking with all three about joining him and creating a championship-level program.
Bailey also needs wide receivers to maximize his passing attack. Right now, Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell is by far the top receiver inside the state. He is rumored to favor out-of-state programs, but perhaps Bailey's decision can awaken him to a possibility closer to home.
There are numerous other receivers on the Illini recruiting lists, but most reside further from campus. Once Illini coaches focus in on their preferred group, Bailey will likely be involved with their recruitment as well.
He and Foster are already close, and both have numerous contacts among prospects. The two even visited the Illini together for a recent spring practice. Joining them was Peoria Central defensive lineman Josh Augusta, who is also taking notice.
It might be a little early to determine what defensive prospects might be impacted by Bailey's decision, but it will no doubt help with them as well. Defensive players benefit when their teams have good offenses, so it is likely at least some prospects will appreciate Illini recruiting successes and wish to become part of the new paradigm.
As one example, Wisconsin defensive lineman Chikwe Obasih has a similar background to Bailey. He also comes from a fine family that emphasizes academics as well as athletics. Obasih and Bailey might find commonality sufficient to play together in college.
Illini coaches are on the road evaluating talent until the second week in May. Once they determine upon whom they will focus their recruiting attention, Bailey will undoubtedly be a name they invoke to encourage interest from other top prospects.
In many ways, Bailey's decision parallels the beginning of the Ron Zook era when Chicago Vocational quarterback Juice Williams committed. He also was a four-star prospect with excellent running ability and a strong arm. And he was a charismatic face of the program upon which other recruiting was possible. Five-star receiver Arrelious Benn was influenced by Williams when he joined the Illini.
If anything, Bailey might be an even better prospect. He runs a reported 4.4 forty yard dash, blazing for a 6'-2", 215 pounder. He hasn't needed to pass much in high school, but he has the quick release and form necessary to complete a high percentage once it's emphasized in workouts.
He has a much better background for the role of college quarterback than Williams, having been coached well in the fundamentals. And he is both smart and a good leader. He has what it takes to have a special college career, and it is expected he will attract his like kind to transform the Illini program into championship-caliber.
Things could be looking up for Illinois football. It's about time. Illini Nation hopes this will be the momentum reversal the Illini need to return to prominence in college football.