Jack Beneventi, the top in-state underclassmen quarterback from Benet Academy (Lisle), picked the Hawkeyes over the Illini Thursday, another painful blow for a coaching staff desperately trying to close off the borders and secure Illinois talent. Missing out on the 6-foot-6, 200-pound signal caller hurts because:
A) Beneventi was the top quarterback on the Illinois board.
B) He is close with several other recruits in the class, including wide receivers Miles Boykin and Flynn Nagel.
C) This furthers the perception – this staff can't land top-flight in-state talent.
The last one is the most hurtful. The perception is that Coach Tim Beckman's job will be on the line in 2014. That's probably more reality than image, actually. It's a bowl berth or bust and that pressure seeps down into recruiting.
Players want to play for the coaches that are recruiting them. Beneventi visited Illinois numerous times and loved offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. He cited academics as one of his reasons for picking Iowa. As if Illinois doesn't offer the better route in that area. Yeah, right. I don't buy the reasoning.
Losing Beneventi hurts because he could have been the poster child for a campaign of hope. Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey are exciting players at the quarterback position. Both of those players should be on the Beckman-can-recruit resume, at the top of the list. But they're already on campus. Beneventi would have provided the evidence that recruits are buying in long term. He could have been the lynchpin that convinced others in the 2015 class – Boykin, Flynn, Dre Brown, Gabe Megginson and more -- that Beckman has the Illini on the upward track for the long haul.
Of course, the Illini can still land those kids. But the margin for error was slim to begin with. Losing a top in-state target won't help.
This is a red flag, but it's not quite time to go into panic mode. There are other options. Here's a couple of players the Illini will turn the heat up on at the quarterback position…
Reese Ryan – The Lexington, Kentucky native, in my opinion, is better than Beneventi. He's not from the home state, a fact that wouldn't dampen the significance of landing him. Illinois offered after seeing him throw a camp in June.
Jimmy Fitzgerald – The hometown QB, Fitzgerald is the starter at nearby Centennial High. He has the look, possesses great lower body strength and has a solid football IQ, all of which led to an early offer from the Illini staff. I watched him at a summer camp and didn't see enough to call him a Big Ten caliber player. Given that he was a rising junior at the time, I took a wait-and-see approach. I'm still waiting…
Gabe Green – The shot caller from Sacred Heart Griffin knows all about winning. He guided the Cyclones to a state title as a junior this season. He's not as tall as the listed 6-foot-2, so that's going to limit his offer sheet. If he's a good fit though, height is just a number. Ask Aaron Murray and Colt McCoy about that. Green doesn't have an offer yet, a nod to the pecking order the staff had set up at the position. We'll see if he gets on as the process shuffles along.