Fighting Illini Announce New Signing Class

The Fighting Illini football program signed 19 football players to scholarships Wednesday. New coach Tim Beckman is pleased with his group despite problems resulting from the lateness of his hiring. He spoke at length about his new class Wednesday.

Illinois football coach Tim Beckman was proud to announce the signing of 19 new football players Wednesday.

"I'm very excited about this recruiting class. When you take over a program on December 9 and get most of the staff here by January 1st, we had only two weekends when we were in school. I was proud of the way this coaching staff recruited. They got out and around the state and throughout what we call Illini Nation. We were able to get a majority of our football players from that area."

More than anything, Beckman is pleased with the quality of the individuals both on and off the field.

"We're very excited about the type of individuals we got. We went out in search of players, in a short amount of time, that fit exactly what we wanted for an Illini football player. One that's going to be prompt and on time, Illini time. One that's going to be an excellent student and an excellent example out in the community. And then one that of course is a winner.

"There are a couple of key stats that I'd like to share with you. Out of the 19 signees, 13 of them were from what we call Illini Nation. So they're all within a five hour radius of Champaign. We had seven total championship game appearances out of this group of 19. So that means almost half of our players played in a state championship football game.

"It's very important you find yourself winners. That's what I've done with our football staff, and that's where we attack our recruiting. We signed gentlemen that know what it takes to win. Four of those won state championships. Two of them were track state champs.

"We had two who played in national all-star games, one in the All-American Bowl, and one in the Parade All-American Bowl. Out of the 19 football players we signed, we had 163 total state playoff game appearances. That means each one of our players played in approximately 8 playoff appearances (on average). So they were able to play in games beyond their seasons. They know what it takes to win and be a champion.

"12 of the new signees had over a 3.0 (grade point average). And we had two that were over a 4.0. The class GPA was a 3.27. We had one that was a class valedictorian."

Beckman doesn't believe in singling out players because they're all equally important to him. But he commended Chicago Mt. Carmel defensive tackle Vontrell Williams for his help in the recruiting process.

"I want to bring Vontrell Williams to your attention. He had committed to the previous staff but was involved in Toledo recruiting when I was down there. I've known Vontrell for some time.

"We kind of put this recruiting class in Vontrell's hands. Vontrell Williams did an excellent job of being involved in the recruiting process. He did an outstanding job of reaching out to his classmates to get this recruiting class established.

"He's a great ambassador of this recruiting class. And he's a Chicago native, and we want to get as many players as we can get out of this fine state of Illinois."

The Illini needed to add depth on the defensive line, and Williams has the potential to be a good one.

"He's committed to making himself the best he can be both on and off the field. He's a no-brainer because you want those kind of men on the football field for you. I think he's got a great first step, I think he's got great punch and uses his hands extremely well."

Another one of the top catches was Miami Norland defensive tackle Teko Powell.

"Teko is a winner. He played in the state championship and won it in the state of Florida. The year before, they got beat in the state championship. I think Teko is a great young man. There was a bunch of people after Teko."

Two of the players are already in school. Defensive back Tajarvis Fuller is expected to play the newly designated "Star" position. Also new to the program is Daniel Rhodes, a tight end from North Carolina who stayed out of school first semester and then enrolled as a greyshirt for second semester.

Besides Fuller, the Illini signed cornerbacks Jevaris Little, Justin Hardee and V'Angelo Bentley plus safeties Taylor Barton and B.J. Bello. Beckman stocked up in the defensive secondary for good reason.

"Coming into this situation, I wasn't very impressed with the numbers (of secondary players). Not the players, the players are very good. I think that is a direct reflection on some of the special teams' problems too. A couple of those players could also be wide receivers. We were able to get some skill."

Hardee is one mentioned previously as a possible receiver. Beckman elaborated on the speedster, who comes from Cleveland Glenville's fabled program along with Bentley.

"We'll start Justin as a defensive back. I've known Justin for a long time. He's related to Cordale Scott, was a former player here who played for me at Toledo. Justin is a fine young man. He plays at Glenville, and I've had a background at Glenville for a long time. I know Coach (Ted) Ginn does a great job.

"He's a very competitive individual, very competitive. You can't get enough of those on your football field. He's competitive in everything he does."

Like the previous Illinois coaching staff, Beckman recognizes the attrition likely with college running backs and prefers to have five or six on scholarship at any given time. He signed three Wednesday.

"Dami Ayoola comes from one of the top programs in the country. He won a national championship as a freshman or sophomore. He's a bigger guy, meaning I think he can run physically, and he has enough of a wiggle to make you miss.

"Devin Church is a littler running back. We'll use him more at the 'M' position, a guy that can line up as a wide receiver, can motion him back into the backfield, or he could line up as a back. He's got outstanding hands and does a great job of catching the ball out of the backfield. Dami does also.

"Lakeith Walls is a bigger back. He's 6'-3", he'll easily be 210 + pounds. He is an outstanding track runner; he's a legitimate 10.8 100 meter guy. He will be one of the top sprinters in the state of Ohio. He's more of a slasher, Eric Dickerson type of runner with the longer legs."

All together, there are two offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, three running backs, one tight end, one receiver, one kicker, three linebackers and six defensive backs. Beckman was asked why there is no quarterback.

"The three quarterbacks I saw playing here in the postseason all had outstanding talents. Not just as football players, but as leaders. Everyone of them, which is amazing.

"We have what we call an Honor Committee here, the spokesmen for this football team. Ironically, all three quarterbacks were among the top vote getters. When you are around all three, you can see they could be leaders.

"We weren't in on a quarterback at the time, and we have those three outstanding young men. With the addition of Chase Haslett (on scholarship now after walking on last fall), that's four. I like to have at least four."

Former commits Joey Warburg and Elliot Faerber are not joining the Illini. In a departure from former head coach Ron Zook, Beckman doesn't tolerate commitments taking other visits.

"As I said to all our players that were committed prior to my arrival, 'I'm committed to you as of December 10.' I called all of them up and told them it wouldn't be right for me as a human being to pull their scholarships. I don't work that way.

"When they came on a visit, I told all our players, 'Don't take another visit.' Joey we wanted to look at a couple more, so at that time he knew we were gonna look for others. It was pretty much the same thing with (Faerber)."

Beckman may not be finished with the 2012 class. It depends on what pops up between now and the start of fall semester.

"We are still able to sign three football players. It's about fits. Or, we can hold them back for next year because we have a small senior class. Recruiting is an everyday job."

This recruiting class will not be ranked high nationally, but under the circumstances it was probably the best Beckman and his staff could do on short notice.

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