Illinois enjoyed the benefits of recruiting Alabama players when fullback Jay Prosch burst on the scene last year as a true freshman. Another one on their radar is linebacker Harding Harper. Chip Long is his Illini recruiting coach and has made a good impression.
"When I got the offer from Illinois, it kind of stuck out to me. Coach Long told me he was from this area. He actually didn't come to my school. He went to my old school, but I had transferred to Montgomery. Before, I went to Jackson-Olin in Birmingham."
Long is a Birmingham native, but he gladly followed Harper's trail to Montgomery Carver High School. The talented linebacker has multiple scholarship offers.
"I have eight scholarships right now. I'd have to say my favorites are Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Tennessee has sort of a soft offer. A couple others stand out to me, but those are the top four I can see myself playing in their programs."
How could anyone not want a player with Harper's linebacker mentality?
"I'm aggressive. I play every play. Offensive lineman, quarterback, running back or whatever, if they're in my way they get run through. I can cover all over the field. I have the speed to go sideline to sideline. I'm everywhere, and I come every day. I'm gonna be everywhere every play."
Scout hasn't had a chance to evaluate Harper for its rating system, but he is unfazed.
"To me, I'm a 5-star player, so I don't worry about all that. I just play football and do my job. That's what got me where I am now."
The 6'-2", 215 pounder has checked out a few schools, but he hopes to do more investigation this summer.
"I haven't visited any schools up to now, but I've been to a couple junior days awhile back. I went to a Georgia Tech junior day, a Memphis junior day and an Auburn junior day.
"I plan to make a couple trips during the summer. I hope to make it down to Miami and go camping. They say they need to see me run. They know I can, but they want to see for themselves. I hope to get up to some other schools. It's definitely been in my mind the whole time to visit Illinois."
Harper has goals for his college experience both on and off the field.
"From a football standpoint, I really want to find me a place I can play early. I really do want to come in and try to make the team's defense. From an academic standpoint, I'd like to major in Architectural Design, so it must have that program. So if a school has both those, that's where I want to go."
Reminded the difficulty of doubling football with a rigorous major, Harper was undaunted. He is used to facing challenges.
"I know it'll be hard. Maybe I will have that as my major, and maybe I won't. I've been faced with things like that all my life. But I feel there's no difference when I get to the college level. I know it's gonna be a lot more rigorous, and there will be a lot more things I've got to stay away from that could take me away from my work."
As for when he might commit to a school, Harper proved to be wise to the recruiting game.
"I really want to try to make an early commitment. I want to get oriented with a program. A lot of people wait until almost to Signing Day, but I want to do it early. I know when they offer me, I know they will offer maybe 2-3 more guys at the same position I play, and scholarships are limited."
Harper likes his new team and expects big things this fall.
"We're working hard. We're trying to win a state championship this year. It's all right now. We're gonna be solid. There's a lot of great players, and the overall attitude and work ethic is good. We had a lot of seniors that left, but we've got guys who are gonna fill those roles and do as good a job as those other guys did."