T.J. Neal of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, had quietly been on the Illinois radar for some time. But upon arrival of the new staff, Illinois's recruitment of the 3-star linebacker picked up quickly. After a great official visit this weekend, Neal decided to commit to Illinois.
"It was awesome. I liked it a lot. The whole interaction with the coaches was great. Everything we did was around the coaches."
The visit wasn't Neal's first time meeting Illinois linebackers coach Mike Ward. Ward paid Neal a visit at his school recently and quickly formed a strong relationship with the middle linebacker.
"Coach Ward came out to my high school, and he talked about coming in with an opportunity to play early. I really like being able to play early. We have a good relationship, and we can talk about anything in general."
Neal is a great fit for a Big Ten defense. He has good size at 6'-1" and 225 pounds, but he can also move well and has a knack for being around the ball most of the time.
"I think I'm balanced. I can cover, I can run, I can hit, but my physicality stands out the most. I think my size is pretty much Big Ten size."
Neal's host wasn't a defender, but it's easy to see why he felt so welcome at Illinois.
"My host was Nathan Scheelhaase. I got to spend some time with Graham Pocic too. Nathan was just so friendly and talked about why he loved it at Illinois. He had opportunities to go to some bigger schools, but he chose Illinois."
Neal's decision came just hours after returning home from his visit.
"I came back and talked it over with my parents and decided Illinois was right for me."
Neal had a number of programs in pursuit throughout his recruitment. Illinois was able to land him before he took any additional visits.
"I never really had favorites in terms of other schools, but I'd taken some other visits. I had another visit set up with Central Florida."
How does he rate his overall visit?
"It was wonderful."