Willie Beavers, a 6'5" 330 pound defensive tackle from Southfield-Lathrup High School in Michigan, played mostly offensive tackle his first three years of high school. But through a team need, he was able to unlock his potential at defensive tackle and really make an impact his senior season.
"I saw myself as a defensive tackle. I can't really say why, but I just could. I would say my abilities were about even at both. My senior year I had to play defensive tackle too and it was fun, so I got to play it a lot and I ended up being defensive MVP."
What makes Beavers effective? In addition to his size, he shows good technique and can make athletic plays away from the front as well.
"My strengths are probably using my hands and getting penetration. I have some pretty good pursuit too."
Beavers recently journeyed to Champaign-Urbana to see the Illinois campus for himself. Having never been there before, he was really looking forward to the experience.
"I was just looking forward to going to a place where I could fit in and find a great place for me to go and get a feel for how college would be."
Beavers got to tour the campus and spend time with the coaches and players. Through that time together, he was able to feel the connection everyone has at Illinois.
"I really liked the facilities and the coaches. They made it seem like they were all a family and had each other's back and that everyone would help you out."
Two fellow linemen hosted Beavers on his visit, one of which was Freshman All-American defensive tackle Akeem Spence.
"Akeem Spence and Alex Hill hosted me. It was very cool. Akeem keeps it real and tells me how everything is. And he told me how it was for him up there."
Michigan is the recruiting territory and home state of defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, who kept a strong connection with Beavers throughout the process.
"Coach Gilmore recruited me. We see each other probably once a week and talk probably 3 times a week. He was the only coach to recruit me at the position I'd be playing. I got to know him pretty well and so did my parents when he came to the house."
That welcoming feeling resulted in Beavers deciding to commit at the end of his official visit to Illinois this past weekend.
"I decided to commit Sunday morning. I could just feel it. At the banquet I could tell that it was so much like a family. Everybody hung out together. Plus when I went to the academic place it seems like they really help you out with your classes."
Beavers felt coming into the weekend that Illinois would be his destination, but with his family alongside him, he gave Coach Ron Zook the good news before he left.
"My parents and I talked it out before I went up there. My family and I were all in this together talking to Coach Zook. My family was all there when I committed. Coach Zook and Coach Gilmore were pretty excited."
"I want to get on the field and play. I don't know how quick I'll get on the field. I'm guessing it will depend on how well I practice."
One thing is for sure. If Beavers works hard and continues to develop, he could be an anchor for the Illinois defensive line in the future.