Cajuste Finds Home at Illinois

JUCO defensive tackle Abens Cajuste found just what he was looking for at Illinois.

Illinois made a huge addition to their defensive line this weekend with the commitment of Victor Valley defensive tackle Abens Cajuste.

The road to Illinois took a lot of hard work for Cajuste. An undersized defensive lineman coming out of high school, he chose to take the JUCO route to pursue his dream.

"Coming out of high school my option was junior college because I was undersized for my position," he said. "I got some calls from D1AA schools. I redshirted there and thought about transferring and starting over and that's what led me to junior college."

Cajuste's development took a big leap during his two years of junior college. Undersized coming out of high school, Cajuste transformed his body completely into a force to be reckoned with.

"I was a defensive lineman in high school," he said. "Coming out of high school I was about 6'2 and 240 pounds. During my redshirt year out in Central Connecticut I put on about 50 pounds. I left there at 292. During the season at Victor Valley, I've been between 285 and 290."

The transformation got his body ready for the demands of Big Ten. Looking at his measurables, it's clear that strength is one of his biggest assets.

"Just as far as the level of competition and the weight, I feel like I could blend in with anybody when it comes to strength and playing the game," Cajuste said. "My coaches tell me strength-wise I could play with NFL teams. I've done 520 pounds on bench and done 35 reps of 225. I feel like I can adapt to the game speed quickly too. As long as I play my game, everything will be alright."

But being from Miami originally and going to school out in California, what actually drew Cajuste to Illinois in the Midwest?

"Growing up I was a big fan of the Big Ten," he said. "Illinois had everything that I wanted. I love the state and where they're at. The relationship with the coaching staff was great. They were great with my family, especially Coach Beckman and Coach Gilmore. They kept on me and stayed in touch. I believe that they can change this program around, and I feel like Coach Gilmore can make me better."

Coach Gilmore was a huge selling point for Cajuste. Some of Gilmore's former players, including Miami native Corey Liuget, are players who Cajuste is hoping to follow in the footsteps of.

"It's awesome knowing who all he's coached," he said. "He's a great guy and what he knows and who he's coached, I know this was a chance I can't pass up. Who knows, I might be next, and it would be an honor to be coached by him."

The visit to Illinois was a great experience for Cajuste. The atmosphere he felt at Illinois, despite a disappointing season, gave him all the reason he needed to choose Illinois.

"Darrius Caldwell hosted me on my visit," he said. "Meeting the players and the staff was great. I like the mentality and the focus. They've put this year behind them and they're ready to work and turn things around. They believe that they will be able to compete in the big ten. That's where I need to be is somewhere that's serious about winning. I felt a great connection with the guys, and they took me in as family. I just liked everything about them."

Cajuste is an unselfish player, too. He's ready to come in, push his teammates, and work hard to make an impact for Illinois.

"It feels great," Cajuste said. "It's great to have an opportunity to get to this level after trying for so long. I'm ready to compete and try to help this team as much as I can to win. Wherever they want me at, I'm ready to play."

Cajuste brings a lot of physical skills to the field, but he also brings a lot of intangibles as well.

"I lead by example by working hard, making plays, and hopefully bringing heart to the defense," he said. "I throw blockers off really well. I know at this level that guys will be bigger, faster, and stronger, but I'm confident that I can go in anywhere and play. My actions will speak for me."

Aside from Illinois, Cajuste had several division one offers, but in the end, Illinois was somewhere he felt he could call home.

"I had offers from Kansas State, Pittsburgh, California, Baylor, and I had a lot of other schools, but those were some of the others that were standing out," he said. "I felt Illinois was best though for my family and I in the end."

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