One of the top defensive linemen in the state of Illinois is Vincent Valentine, who hails from Edwardsville High School. Valentine got an early Illinois offer and stopped by their summer camp in his home town to visit with UI coaches and observe their training methods.
This offseason, Valentine saw a slew of offers come his way. Now that he is out of school for the summer, he plans to take a few visits, find out more about each of those schools and start to narrow things down.
"Right now with recruiting, I'm going to try to take as many unofficials as I can during the summer, then cut my list to about ten by the end of July. By the end of the summer, I want my list to be down to five so I can set my officials."
Valentine has seen a few of the schools located near him, but with more time this summer, he plans to see those that are more than just a day trip.
"I've been looking to Nebraska, Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan State, and Florida. I'd be going with my mom and my dad."
At the end of last season, he sustained a shoulder injury that required surgery. He has since bounced back and is starting to regain his strength.
"I'm recovering pretty well. My bench is back up to 320 or 330."
It took Valentine some time to recover, but he's found other ways to stay active and rehabilitate from his injury.
"With the shoulder surgery I was kind of limited, but I've been doing track, and I've been lifting pretty hard to get my shoulder back in shape. I've been getting stronger. I couldn't do as many combines as I wanted to because of my shoulder."
One thing you notice right away about Valentine is he's a big body. With his injury, he gained some extra weight. However, he plans to work hard and eat right to get to an optimal playing weight before the season begins.
"I'm 6'4 319 right now. By the end of the summer, I want to be between 305 and 300. I just need to run around and get in shape. We condition pretty good at football practice, and I have a little diet going on, so that will help me out too."
Valentine's Edwardsville team had a rough go last year. With a coaching change after just the first game and a couple key injuries, their season didn't go as well as they would have hoped. But he hopes they can rebound and step up this year.
"We try to go as hard as we can. We're going to be pretty young this year, so we have to push the younger kids. We need to go in with a strong mind and make sure we prepare for the season and play as hard as we can every snap."
As a senior, Valentine knows all eyes will be on him. He admits he isn't a natural leader, but that won't stop him from stepping up and doing what's necessary to push the team.
"I'm definitely going to be pushing everyone in practice and making sure everyone is doing the right things. I'm going to try to lead the team as best as I can. I'm not the type of person to usually lead, but I'm going to step into that role."
Individually, he looks to make a big impact from his defensive tackle position.
"I want to have about 70 to 80 tackles. I want to get at least double-digit sacks too."
Though his injury sidelined him from a lot of physical conditioning, it didn't stop him from improving his game. Rather than sit idle, he studied his game and looked for ways to get better.
"I've been studying film and studying myself to see what I've been doing wrong the last couple years. I just want to correct those mistakes, stay low, and play strong every down."
Valentine knows his role on the defensive line, but he's still looking to complete his repertoire before arriving at the next level.
"I think I'm a hard-nosed defensive tackle. I'm definitely a run stopper that likes to get after it. I've been working on making my pass rushing better for college too."
Valentine has been getting quite a bit of attention from his in-state school as well. He had a lot of positive things to say about the program and the coaches.
"Right now I know they're close to home and I really like that. I just want to see how they do this year. I know they have a good team up and coming. I just want to see how the defense performs this year. And I really like Coach (Ron) Zook. He's a great guy. I like Illinois's program."
He says Zook sees a bright future for him should he come to Illinois.
"He told me that I'd be a great fit and that they really like players like me. He says they can develop me and get me to the next level."
Being so close to home, could Illinois end up being one of Valentine's five official visits?
"I think it's a possibility, yes."
Illinois is certainly in the race, but it have some work to do if it wants to be king of the hill in Valentine's recruitment. He spoke about some of his other favorites as well.
"I think my three favorites are Nebraska, Wisconsin and Florida.
"With Nebraska, I talk to coach J.P. a lot. He's a great guy and tells me about the program and how they have a great tradition. They have a lot of fan support with something like 300 straight sell-outs. I just really like how they develop players and get them to the League.
"With Florida, I like Coach Young. He's a great coach and was an all-pro in the League. Florida has a lot of tradition and is a winning program. Coach Muschamp brings a lot to the program from what I've heard."
Valentine also likes what Tennessee has to offer and discussed them briefly too.
"Tennessee is not too far from home, and they have a great tradition. They develop D-linemen well and have a great program."
So what will ultimately be the selling points for Valentine?
"I think the visits and how I feel with the campus, the players, and the coaches will decide things."
Valentine reports a 27 on the ACT and a 2.5 GPA.