Tallahassee Athlete Likes Paul Petrino

In 2011, Illinois snagged two defensive backs out of the state of Florida. Now, they're journeying back into that state in pursuit of dynamic playmaker from the Tallahassee area, who is developing a solid relationship with Illini assistant Paul Petrino.

D.J. Abnar is a 5'10 170 pound athlete out of Tallahassee's Lincoln High School. Abnar and his teammates had a great season this past year, but it took some time to get off the ground.

"This past season was one of the best we've had since I've been there. We came together as a team and didn't have an individual mindset. We've been doing everything together this offseason too. We played a lot of tough games.

We started 3-4, got to the playoffs, won the district champs. We had to play Navarre in the third round, and we won in the third overtime. I ended up blocking a field goal.

"We had to play Armwood in the state final. We were the underdog in a lot of our games, and despite that we overcame a lot of adversity. We got to state and God was there with us. Nobody expected us to come out on top, but we were focused and prepared."

Abnar plays on both sides of the ball, but he shone at defensive back. Players in Florida are fast in general, but he has great speed and plays a physical brand of football.

"At corner, my speed is my strength. I'm also very athletic, and I'm a physical corner. I have finesse now and then, but I like to beat up on receivers. I like to get my hands on receivers."

Abnar was productive on the defensive side of the ball but was an everything man for his team. He is bound to be even more of a factor this year as a senior.

"I had 3 interceptions and close to 50 tackles. I had 2 blocked kicks too. I did a lot of different things. I played a little running back too. I returned kickoffs and punts too. Whatever the coaches asked me to do, I played it."

As a senior Abnar will be counted on heavily, especially on defense where he will be the guy to match up with each opponent's best receivers.

"I want to get better footwork and get stronger so that I can hold down these bigger receivers."

If all goes well, Abnar expects to improve on last year. It's hard to improve on a state title, but his goals demand perfection. He and his teammates are all on the same page.

"Next year, I expect us to go undefeated and repeat. I know it sounds a little crazy, but I feel like our team is becoming more of a team. The team this upcoming season has all played together the last 4-5 years. We've all grown as one."

Abnar is close to his teammates, especially wide receiver and Illinois prospect Raphael Andrades. The two often talk about continuing their career at the same school.

"Believe it or not, we talk about playing together in college just about every day. We're so close it's almost our dream to play together at the next level. We have our individuality, but it can also help us decide where we want to go.

Raphael is one of my best friends, and we talk just about every day. We plan to take our visits together and whatever happens, happens."

A lot of recruits are concerned about the rate at which a school sends athletes to the NFL. However, Abnar is just as concerned about how his education will prepare him for the rest of his life.

"Actually, the graduation rate for the athletes is pretty important to me. Also the majors. I'd like to either go into sports medicine or marine biology. Possibly communications too."

In a football program, Abnar is looking for many of the same things he and his Lincoln teammates have. Hard work and dedication top that list.

"I'm looking for hard work. A lot of schools say they thrive on hard work, but I want to see them back up what they say. I believe actions speak louder than words. The way the coaches push you. I want a coach to be on my behind all the time to make me better. Also I want it to feel like it's at home, and that everyone's dedicated."

When you win a state championship, you're bound to get noticed. Because of his success this past year, Abnar is receiving interest from some notable schools.

"The main ones I'm looking at right now are Clemson, Tennessee, NC State, Illinois, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and USF."

At this point, Abnar only has one offer, but it's from a school of which he thinks highly.

"Nobody really stands out yet, but Illinois offered me so I've been looking at them a lot."

Despite being primarily a defender, Abnar is being recruited by offensive coordinator and receiver coach Paul Petrino. Petrino has ties to Florida, and his fiery personality is something that is appealing to him.

"They're recruiting me as an athlete right now. They're very open to what you want to play, so I could play either offense or defense.

"Coach Petrino has been recruiting me so far. Coach Petrino and I talk a lot. He's a really cool guy, and I actually know people who went to Illinois, and they talk about how it is. I run track too, so that's something else that could play a big part.

It seems like it's a good school. I mean, I haven't taken a visit yet but hopefully I will eventually."

Abnar has plans to see some other schools as well. So far, he's taken a visit to nearby Gainesville to check out Florida and new coach Will Muschamp.

"I went to Florida a couple weeks ago for their junior day. That was a pretty good visit, but it was the only one I've taken so far. I do plan to go to Miami's spring game. Also, I'd like to go to FSU's since it's right in town. And if I can, I'll probably go to some of the others in the area."

Abnar doesn't want to rush his decision. In the end, he just wants to make sure the school he chooses is the right fit.

"Chances are I'll just decide on a school when it feels right. Whenever it happens, it happens. I'll know who it is when the time comes. I just want to make sure it feels like home for me."

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