Defensive back coaches love a safety that can hit and tackle well. So it's no wonder the Illinois staff has targeted Lake Highland safety Taylor Barton. At 6'-1" tall and a solid 200 pounds, Barton packs a punch.
"I'm a bigger safety, so that helps. I'm pretty aggressive, and I hit pretty hard. I have run in the 4.4 or 4.5 range."
Naturally, Barton has innate ability to stop the run, but last year he also got a chance to prove that he has coverage skills.
"Last year I played free safety since our other starter got hurt, but this year I should be strong safety. That lets me play up in the box more for stopping the run. We run like a 3-5-3 defense."
Barton explains the 3-5-3 defense consists of three defensive linemen, three linebackers, two strong safeties on the wings playing up like linebackers, a free safety in the middle-rear, and two cornerbacks. It is somewhat of an unconventional defense, but it proved successful for them. Barton hopes it will carry into this coming year.
"Last year we lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs to Island Coast. They were really good and had some big seniors and I think even some All-Americans. This year we have much higher expectations since we return a lot of guys."
So what does Barton hope to accomplish this coming season?
"I want to get a little quicker reading and reacting. I want to get better on coverage too, but tackling is good."
He got a chance this past weekend to see two schools in the Midwest that have offered him thus far. He talked about what he looks for in a school.
"Pretty much the campuses. Ball State and Illinois are really different. The facilities and the coaches are important, especially the position coach since that's who you deal with when you're there. That and the teammates you may have."
Barton's recruitment has started to pick up recently. Florida spring ball definitely helped his stock and gave him a chance to be spotted by a number of college coaches.
"We had a bunch of teams come down in the spring, and some asked me to go to camps. I went to North Carolina, South Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke. At UNC and South Carolina, I'm behind a couple people on their recruiting board. I went to Florida and Florida State for junior days. And then this weekend I visited Ball State and Illinois."
Being from the South, Barton didn't know a whole lot about the Illinois campus before he got up to Champaign, but his eyes were opened during the visit. He also liked seeing the head coach.
"Well, I didn't really know it was as big as it is, and I didn't know what to expect. It's the Big Ten, and they play hard football. I'd seen Ron Zook at Florida too, so I knew about him when I got up there."
Barton was impressed with numerous things during his visit, on both the football and campus sides of things.
"The facilities are really nice, and they have the biggest weightroom in the country that's just for football. Academically, the players have a lot of help and resources. The defensive back coach is really great, and that helps a lot.
"I don't know about a major yet, but we talked about maybe a business major. With Illinois, I would have some time to figure it out once I got there."
Barton got a chance to reunite with Illinois defensive back coach Mike Gillhamer during his visit. Gillhamer had come to observe Barton in the spring.
"I like him. He came down and liked me at spring practice. I did some research on him, and he really knows everything. He'll make you the best you can be."
Because the Illinois players stay pretty busy during the summer as well, Barton didn't get to interact with many of them, But he did run into senior safety Trulon Henry during the tour.
"A lot of them were in class when I was there. I didn't get to hang out with them much. But I did get to meet one of the other safeties in the lounge though."
Barton won't rest long because he's right back on the visit trail this weekend.
"Friday I'll be going to Friday Night Lights in Gainesville. I might try to get to Syracuse, depending on camp with my high school. Maybe some officials in the fall, but I haven't planned that far yet."
This visit probably won't be Barton's last to Illinois. He'd like to see the campus again this fall when university life is in full swing.
"I'll probably take an official to Illinois during the school year so I can see it while everyone's there and things are going on."
Right now, Barton holds offers from Illinois, Ball State, Syracuse, Temple, and Elon. The Illinois offer stands out to him at this point. Is there a chance Barton could eventually select Illinois down the road?
"It was big since it was the first big offer I got. Knowing Ron Zook was the head coach was also exciting since I grew up a Florida fan around that time.
"If I don't get any other places to look at, I'd say Illinois is probably in my top 2 or 3 right now, and I really like it so far. So it's possible."
Barton doesn't want to make a hasty decision just yet. He hopes to experience the entire process but knows sometimes recruiting is a matter of flexibility.
"It kind of depends on people committing. Right now I want to take my time, but if things pick up I may have to make a decision sooner."