Kenneth Nelson is a tall, rangy defensive end from perennial Detroit powerhouse Cass Tech. A name that has been relatively unknown until recently, Nelson checked out Illinois this past weekend and saw a city that wasn't quite like home but still felt very welcoming to him.
"It's a little different than Detroit."
Nelson made a quick commitment after his visit. He was sold on the Illinois program and all it has to offer.
"I'd say that during the visit, looking at the school, the facilities, the players and the coaches, that's what drew me to Illinois."
Nelson was hosted by freshman center Alex Hill. Despite their positional and geographical differences, they found common ground and formed a quick relationship.
"Alex Hill, he's a cool dude. He's real calm, and he was really truthful about everything when I asked him questions."
Cass Tech head coach Thomas Wilcher is glowing in his praise of Nelson.
"Ken is really an explosive guy. He's tough, aggressive. He's both tall and big. He has one of those silent motors. He's one of those quiet kids. You don't know how aggressive he is until you get him out on the football field.
"He played 5-technique and 7-technique defensive end. He has great hands and great speed. I think he will be a great addition to Illinois's team."
Nelson didn't come into his own until senior year, a primary reason more schools haven't recruited him harder.
"This year he really found himself. He was always the biggest kid. It sometimes takes those big kids time to find themselves. So this year he really stuck in there. He just kept saying, 'You know those boys can't handle me.' He just woke up. I'm real proud of him.
"I tried to get him to wake up last year, but he really didn't have the tempo going. This year he kept that tempo going the whole year."
The Illini's primary recruiter in the Detroit area is Keith Gilmore. Coach Gilmore has been to Cass Tech to see Nelson over the past couple months and built familiarity with Nelson that made him comfortable with Illinois.
"My relationship with the coaches has been good. Coach Gilmore has been up here getting to know me, and he seems like a good coach. He does the best thing for you and tries to make you better. All the players like him."
Wilcher also has great respect for Gilmore, a Cass Tech graduate, and encourages his many top players to consider Illinois because of Gilmore's presence at the school.
"Coach Gilmore has a good relationship with us. I have a lot of top players every year. I always try to send them Coach Gilmore's way. First of all, Coach Gilmore is very impressive to talk to, very impressive the way he treats the kids, and very impressive talking to them about what they want to do in their lives after football.
"I've known Coach Gilmore a long time, since he was at Eastern Michigan. There's a lot of coaches at Cass Tech that just don't work the same way. He does a real good job.
"Gilmore has had a crack at every kid I've had. I've had an All-American for the last seven years. I try to get every kid to have a chance to go to a college someway, somehow. I finally got a kid to go to Illinois."
Nelson wasn't looking for anything flashy or extravagant, but rather what sold him on Illinois were the essentials.
"Just when I heard about the record and how they got there. I saw some of their highlights and talked with the players about what goes on. The weight room and the strength coach really explained things. It was really legit."
With a big frame to build upon, Nelson projects as a defensive end for the Illini. His current size matches closely to the size of Illini bandit Michael Buchanan.
"I think they want me at defensive end. Right now I'm 6'6" 230. I need to lift weights and do drills. They want me to stay flexible and not just be really big. I need to keep my speed up and stay focused in the classroom."
Staying focused in the classroom will be important as Nelson hopes to undertake a unique and challenging major.
"I want to major in architecture and design."