Illini's Friday Night Lights A Big Hit

The first ever Fighting Illini version of Friday Night Lights was a smashing success Friday evening. More than 200 football players from all over the Midwest assembled at Memorial Stadium for an evening of workouts and interacting with college coaches. There was talent to burn as top prospects from 2014 and 2015 joined upcoming seniors at the camp.

Illinois football coach Tim Beckman was pleased with the large turnout for Friday Night Lights. There was plenty of talent on display, including a number of players the Illini are evaluating for scholarships. And Illini coaches were front and center, making sure the players met and interacted with them.

It was also a good camp for players who will not receive Illini scholarship offers. Coaches from other Illinois colleges and some more distant helped coach the camp, giving them a chance to evaluate players for their levels.

Several prospects stood out. Among those who caught the eye were 4-star Hilliard, Ohio, cornerback Caleb Day and 2014 prospects Ashton Jackson and Dareian Watkins.

Day has Illinois in his top three, along with Ohio State and Michigan. He only ran a 4.6 forty, but his cover skills are excellent. He didn't need the camp to earn a scholarship, but he used it as an opportunity to see the campus and meet the Illini coaches.

Ashton Jackson is a dynamic running back from Trotwood-Madison in Ohio. The upcoming junior was one of three players who ran 4.4 for the 40 yard dash, along with Tray Mitchell from Holt High School in Missouri and Javon Turner, a receiver from Downers Grove South. Avon, Indiana, receiver Ja'Len Edwards was right behind at 4.41. He has amazingly quick feet running his routes.

Dareian Watkins is being recruited by the Illini as a quarterback/receiver. While only 5'-11", he ran a 4.53 forty and showed a strong, accurate arm. When tried at receiver, he was seen speeding by defenders for two long touchdown grabs, the second a diving effort. He is also an intelligent, personably young man who would give credit to any university.

Tight end was well represented, especially in the junior class. Daniel Helm from Chatham Glenwood and Ethan Wolf from Minster, Ohio, have Illini offers, and both looked excellent. Darryl Long, a junior tight end from Westerville South in Ohio didn't play varsity last year, but he has the frame and athleticism to be a good one.

Tinashe Bere is a 2014 linebacker prospect from Cincinnati Sycamore with an Illini offer. Listed at 5'-11", 223, he didn't do great in the 40 but excelled in the position drills. He's strong and aggressive. Clifton Garrett was also prominent in drills. The 2014 linebacker from Plainfield South returned to campus a second weekend in a row. He ran a 4.8 forty.

Tommy Mister is being recruited by the Illini as a quarterback, but the Oak Lawn Richards athlete looked better as a runner than a passer. Upcoming junior Jake Kolbe has promise as a passer, although it remains to be seen whether the Naperville Central star has the mobility to go with it.

There weren't a lot of top offensive and defensive linemen working out, unusual for this type of camp. A defensive end with promise is Andre Turner, a three-star from Chandler Park High School in Michigan.

Everyone seemed to be having fun and learning football, two keys to any advanced camp like this one. Many got to campus early enough to take a tour, and they were treated like royalty. The Illini staff made sure of it.


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