Peyton Newell has made a reputation around the country as one of the top defensive end prospects in his age group since his freshman year of high school in Hiawatha, Kansas. He visited Illinois unofficially Saturday and came away with a strong impression of the school and football program.
"The Illinois visit went fantastic. They treated me like royalty. I got to sit down with Coach (Tim) Beckman for about 30 minutes like family. We discussed what they're asking from me for their program, and just how great the program will be if I come.
"It's a great program, and I was really impressed. I had an idea that I wanted to play with Illinois, but after yesterday they sold me. On down the road, when it comes to my final decision, they're definitely right up there. It was a really good day overall."
Newell camped with the former Illinois coaching staff last summer, but it was assumed his connection was waning since his original recruiter is no longer on the staff. But his position coach Keith Gilmore has made a strong impression with him.
"What really sold me was Coach Gilmore staying. I definitely have a strong relationship that I built with him at camp last year."
Newell is a top student, and Illinois fits what he needs there as well.
"Academics is very important of course. I have a 3.95 GPA. They said academics is first. All the schools say that, but Illinois really expresses that. So that's something that really sticks out for me."
He was also impressed by upcoming improvements shared by athletic director Mike Thomas.
"The Athletic Director came in and I talked to him. They're getting new turf on the practice fields and the game field. And they're getting a new scoreboard that will cover all that up. So I'm excited for the future of Illinois."
The workout warrior may be outgrowing his original position.
"I'm up to 270. My bench is 350, and my squat is up to 600."
Defensive tackle may be in his future; he got an introduction at the Nike Football Training Camp Sunday.
"I'm playing defensive end. I'll probably stick with defensive end for my school. But as far as the next level, I see myself moving down to the three-technique. That's where the coach moved me down today. I played nose guard and not three-tech.
"It's a little adaptation, but I really enjoyed it today. I was really comfortable, and I was selected to be in the top five despite playing a new position. So I was proud of that."
Newell has been working so hard for so long, some wonder if he will struggle from burnout. He's not at all concerned.
"My dad has always taught me, to be the best you have to work the best. I definitely believe in that. I definitely have a passion for the game, so I'm not close to being burned out."
He is aware of the need to get away from things for awhile, both for his physical and mental health.
"I took 2-3 weeks off just to relax. I'm starting again next week. We start preparations for the football season. I'm grinding, and I'm excited."
The Illini are no doubt excited about the inroads made with this top-level national recruit.