Ralph Cooper, a talented linebacker from Fairfield Heights High School in Winnsboro, South Carolina, decided to come to Illinois. Now, his former teammate defensive back Devontre Parnell is on Illini radar and holds an early offer.
He and Cooper both played huge roles on the Griffins' defense last year, and as a team they made it to the state final in South Carolina.
"Last season, we went all the way up to state but lost by 5 points up there. We're losing a lot of players, but this whole junior class is stepping up. I'll be doing kick return, punt return, and playing corner and receiver. I don't think I met my expectations this past year because I want to always be better."
Parnell is a gifted athlete. In addition to football, he also runs track, and both sports together have helped him build his athleticism.
"My technique and my footwork are good. I'm also really fast. My ball skills are really good too, so I can find the ball. I want to get out there and be faster than the receivers. My fastest 40 I've had was a 4.38. I had 45 tackles and 5 interceptions, 15 PBU, and 5 total touchdowns."The 5'-11", 170 pounder likes to play physical football, but he admits that he needs some work on his play close to the line of scrimmage. He doesn't mind the challenge of shutting down a receiver though.
"I need to get better at jamming the receiver more often. As many reps as I can get in one-on-ones, I love that. I love playing man-to-man on a receiver."
Parnell's athletic ability has put him on the radar of numerous college coaches. He, like his teammate Cooper, has a nose for the ball.
"I already know colleges like my speed and my ability to go get the ball. They like the way I tackle too. I wish I was a little bigger, but that will happen better when I get to college. I'm always near the ball no matter what."
Parnell has a lot of respect for Cooper; they have grown close over their time at Fairfield.
"Ralph and I have always been there together. We camped together last summer in Alabama, and he kept me upbeat when things got tough. He was there for me."
Football is promising for Parnell, but he also puts a lot of weight on academics when it comes to selecting a college. He does want to work with a good defensive back system. With the addition of Mike Gillhamer to the Illinois staff, maybe he could find that in Champaign.
"Academics are the main thing for me. That way if I get hurt or something, I have something to back me up. Also I like when they have a good DB program and produce good DB's. I'd like to get a chance to go to the NFL if I can."
Though he only holds two offers so far, Parnell is hearing from perennial powers. He grew up a big fan of one SEC school in particular.
"Basically, I've been hearing from LSU, GT, Auburn, Tennessee. I've been hearing from a lot of schools, but those are the main ones. I really like LSU."
He has plans to see a few of those this spring, just to get a taste of what the schools near him are like. However, one visit will take him out of his region and bring him to the Midwest.
"I'm supposed to go to Auburn, LSU, GT, and Tennessee sometime for junior days. I'm really excited about getting up to Illinois. Kentucky, I like their program too. When I talk to their coaches, they can be real with me about everything. Kentucky wants me to come for a spring practice."
Parnell will be staying all weekend on his Illinois visit. During that time, he hopes to get an idea of what a typical college weekend is like at Illinois. He hopes that it is just as good, if not better, than what his teammate Ralph Cooper was able to experience when he was being recruited.
"The atmosphere is one thing I'm looking for. I know it's crazy, so I want to see what the college atmosphere is like. Ralph told me when he went he really enjoyed it. Hopefully I do too."
Illinois coach Ron West is a strong recruiter in South Carolina. Known by the nickname "Big Daddy," dating back to his Clemson days, West has made a good impression so far on Parnell.
"I like Coach West, man. He's cool. I like talking to him. We have good conversations about stuff other than football. He called me the other day and got me all filled in about this visit coming up. I met him when he came out to visit too."
Parnell already has a couple offers on the table now and may pick up a couple more by the end of the summer. But rather than bind himself to a set schedule, he plans on feeling his way through the recruiting process and taking things as they come.
"I haven't really thought about it yet, but whoever comes along and how it feels by the end of the summer might determine whether I keep it going or end it before my senior season."