Mason Monheim, a linebacker from Orrville, Ohio, knows the Illinois campus well from a number of previous visits. But this past weekend afforded him a chance to immerse himself in the culture of Illinois football.
"This was probably my fourth time in Champaign. I really got to know the players this time and talked with them. I felt like I'd known them forever."
Monheim got a good vibe overall from both the players and coaches, and he is optimistic for the future of Illinois football.
"We cracked jokes and things like that. I could get the feeling that it's just a different atmosphere with the new coaches in there. Some really bright things should be happening."
Despite only being a complete coaching staff for a short period of time, Monheim noted their closeness.
"Coach Beck (Tim Beckman) brought a few coaches along, but Coach (Luke) Butkus, Coach (Tim) Banks, and Coach (Billy) Gonzales all seemed like they'd been together for so long. They were all close with each other, and they'd only been together for a couple weeks. That's what you need. You need all the coaches to be close knit, and that will have an effect on the team."
Monheim kept an eye on Illinois for quite some time, but once Tim Beckman was named the new head coach, he made the call for Illinois. Now a few weeks later, he got a chance to rest assured that he made the right call.
"I had a strong relationship with Coach (Mike) Ward and Coach Beckman from Toledo, so it was an easy transition when they came to Illinois. I feel comfortable with them, and I have for a while. If Illinois wasn't an option, I was going to go to Toledo, but this all happened. Things turned out great, and I'm happy about all of it."
Monheim takes a lot of pride in his commitment to Illinois, and he encouraged some of his fellow visitors to feel the same way.
"I really made it a point to talk to Vincent Valentine. He's a big guy, and if we can get him there that would be great. You don't really know anyone from reading about them or looking at pictures, but talking to him made me want him there."
Monheim spent time with a number of Illinois players, but a majority of his time was spent with his future linebacker teammates.
"My host was Matt LaCosse. I really got to know Nate Scheelhaase and Donovonn Young. Also Hugh Thornton, Spencer Harris, Jonathan Brown, Ralph Cooper and Houston Bates. Just a lot of the linebackers. I'm excited to get out there."
With the new staff incorporating slightly different schemes, some positions are likely to change. But it's clear he will be patrolling the middle.
"They see me as one of the middle linebackers. I feel comfortable there, and that's where I've always played. That's already kind of set up, and I'm happy with it."
The jump from high school to college isn't always easy, but Monheim has already made a good deal of progress in preparing for the physicality of the college game.
"Right when I got there, they said workout-wise I'm way ahead of the game. I work my butt off every day in the weight room to get ready, so that was a great compliment. But I know I need to come in and work and compete. I can't wait for the opportunities.
I've gained a lot of weight too. I'm up to about 225 pounds compared to about 215 during the season, and haven't really lost my speed. So that's good."
Monheim has set high personal goals as he approaches college. Academics are important to him, and he's ready to work as hard as necessary to be successful.
"It's a great school. I'm big on academics. Being able to go to Illinois, it's a place that's going to set you up for success. I want to go into dentistry. It's going to be tough, but they help you as much as you need, and that's what I like about it."