Dondi Kirby made it official today, announcing his intention of signing with Illinois in the February signing period. The star from Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, made his decision after visiting Iowa last weekend. He explains his reasoning.
"I made this decision because the coaching staff was like family. From the secondary coach to the head coach, they were all like family."
Gateway is a dominant program in western Pennsylvania, and the Illini have recruited the school for several years now. Kirby's decision is a breakthrough the Illini hope will lead to more Gateway athletes selecting Illinois in the future. He says distance from home was no concern.
"It's really not that far if you think about it. It takes about 7 hours to drive. I don't know how fast a plane would be, but I know it would be faster than that."
Scout lists Kirby as a three-star athlete who can play both receiver and defensive back, but he was recruited to play defense. He was told he could play either cornerback or safety by Illini coaches. The 6'-3", 190 pounder brings unique qualities to the cornerback position should he end up there.
"I am a different breed of corner, I would say. My height is a big advantage. I'm physical at the line. I love to hit."
Perhaps his greatest attribute is his football knowledge and vision.
"As a tall corner who also plays receiver, I pretty much see a route before it's happening. I know what routes there are and how they break on every one."
Kirby suffered a torn ACL this summer, but surgery went well and he is recovering rapidly.
"I do the rehab by myself now. I do some lifts on it and get some running in, and I get my core stronger. It feels good; I feel like I'm about 80% right now."
He was healthy enough to practice with his team prior to the end of the season, a remarkably fast turnaround.
"I started going full speed before the doctor gave me a timetable. I practiced with my team about the last two weeks of our season, getting them ready for the playoffs."
He was hoping to play the last couple games, but the doctor wouldn't permit it. He got a little carried away, but he proved beyond doubt his recovery is going well.
"My coach actually threw me out because he didn't want me to hurt the other players. I was kind of angry when my doctor said I couldn't play, so I took it out on my players. That wasn't a good thing; I hurt two of them, not badly. They couldn't believe what they were seeing. It was like I had never had any injury."
Kirby, who is firmly committed and will make no more official visits, says the Illini will give him a head start on learning secondary play prior to next summer.
"Coach Ron Zook said that Coach Vic (Koenning) the defensive back coach would come in in January and give me a head start on the defensive scheme and everything. I hope to be playing a lot next fall."
Kirby's teammate and friend Armstead Williams made visits to Illinois and Iowa together. While he hopes Williams will join him in Champaign-Urbana, he is letting him make his own decision.
"I don't know when he will make a decision, and I don't know who he will make it to. But I know we both like Illinois. Whatever he chooses to do is his prerogative."