Illinois coach Bill Cubit doesn't see the point of shying away from competing with other power-five conference teams -- including those programs who have won more often and more consistently -- for recruits.
Sure, the Illini may lose a lot of recruitiments with that approach. But they also might land a few prospects who can change the direction of the program.
That mindset led the Illini to a big commitment on Saturday as three-star tight end Zarrian Holcombe gave his verbal pledge on his official visit.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Texas native once was committed to Texas A&M and has held offers from Cal, Colorado, Houston, Missouri, Oregon, Purdue, Texas and Washington.
The Illini now are looking to add a few more no-doubt Big Ten-level prospects.
Scouting report on Zarrian Holcombe
"Holcombe is an explosive pass-catching tight end who can both line up at the end of the line of scrimmage, or flex out as more of a wide receiver. He gets off of the line quickly at the snap, which helps him gain an early advantage over linebackers and safeties. Holcombe has good hands and is surprisingly shifty and evasive in space for his size. Not much of a blocker at this point, he will need to add weight to handle the physicality of college football in the Big Ten, but Holcombe has the frame to carry much more lean weight. Holcombe will give Illinois a receiving threat over the middle of the field, somewhere they have struggled mightily the last couple of years. He presents a matchup difficulty for linebackers, and can occupy a safety, freeing up the run game somewhat and creating more one-on-one matchups on the perimeter."
– Ryan Easterling, IlliniInquirer.com recruiting reporter
Class of 2016, so far
Illinois currently has 18 verbal commitments (with two soft verbal commitments that I won't include on the list: Kentrail Moran and Joshua Black). The class -- which currently consists of twelve (12) three-star prospects -- ranks 52nd nationally in the Scout team rankings and 11th of 14 teams in the Big Ten, ahead of Rutgers (58), Indiana (72) and Purdue (92). The Illini's average commit rating (2.70) ranks 13th among Big Ten teams, ahead of only Indiana. Recent OL commitment Doug Kramer will grayshirt and count toward the Class of 2017. Safety commit Juwuane Parchman may have some academic issues that might preclude him from joining Illinois this fall.
- Quarterback (1): Eli Peters
- Running back (1): Devin Singletary
- Wide receiver (1): Dominic Thieman
- Tight end (2): Zarrian Holcombe, Griffin Palmer
- Offensive line (3): Jake Cerny, Kurt Gavin, Tre'Vour Simms
- Defensive line (4): Tre Johnson, Antonio Shelton, Kenyon Jackson, Brandon Jones
- Linebacker (1): Tim Walton
- Defensive back (4): Drake Spears, Juwuane Parchman, Stanley Green, Ahmari Hayes
- Kicker (1): James McCourt
The Illini currently have about 23-24 scholarship spots allotted for the Class of 2016, if including the three oversigns allowed by the Big Ten. That leaves the Illini with roughly about five to seven remaining scholarships to fill.
- Defensive back (1): Illinois loses three starters in the secondary, and the likely candidates to replace those starters don't garner a lot of enthusiasm. Illinois needs to get faster and longer in the secondary and can sell recruits on immediate playing time.
- Linebacker (1): It remains to be seen whether Julian Jones will be back on the team after being accused of sexual assault. He will take classes this spring but is still suspended from team activities until the legal procedings reach a conclusion. Jones was a future starter who added much-needed size and speed to the second level. The Illini need more playmakers at linebacker and will sell recruits on immediate opportunity.
- Wide receiver (1): Without Mikey Dudek and Justin Hardee, the Illini lacked speed to stretch the field. Hardee is gone after next season and Illinois needs another player who can take the top off the defense.
- Offensive line (2): The Illini want to look more like a Big Ten team up front. Their focus is on adding prospects with size and physicality so that they can compete with Big Ten defensive lines.
- Defensive line (1): Black will visit Syracuse next week and the Orange (not the Illini) seem to have the inside track. That'd open a spot for Illinois, which needs to build depth for future pass rushers.
- Running back (1): With Moran likely flipping to Syracuse, Illinois has a spot open for another running back with the focus on a short-yardage power back. Though, they certainly would take a gamebreaker with top-end speed.
Hot list: Be on alert for these Illini prospects
- Mackenzie Nworah, OL: The former Mizzou commit currently is on his official visit to Illinois. Be on alert. A.J. Ricker and Mike Bellamy have done a great job recruiting Nworah, who would give Illinois some much-needed size and physicality up front. A commitment could be close, even if Mizzou is still trying to sway him back. If he doesn't pop this weekend, Nworah is expected to visit Houston, a program with a lot of momentum.
- Jake Hansen, LB: The Florida native and former Iowa State commit also is visiting this weekend with his parents. He has a visit planned to Florida Atlantic, but the Illini are his best offer and he sounds ready to make a move. Be on alert.
- Evan Fairs, WR: The former Maryland commit is under-ranked as a two-star prospect. Kansas is his best competing offer, and he seems to be rising on Illinois' board. If the Illini push this weekend, they may get some good news.
- Mike Williams, OT: Illinois is high on the under-the-radar Alabama offensive tackle. He should make a visit to campus in the coming weeks and could secure a spot if others wait too long. Speaking of...
- Tre'Vour Simms, OL: The East St. Louis guard is labeled as a "soft commit" to Missouri at the moment. Simms has flip-flopped in the Border War between Mizzou and Illinois. Illini assistants A.J. Ricker and Mike Bellamy this week visited Simms and he gave off some great vibes. But Simms will wait until Signing Day to announce his decision. If Simms sticks with where he wants to go, Illinois should get a great Big Ten offensive line prospect.
- Sam Brodner, RB: Wisconsin is hosting the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year this weekend. If he leaves without giving a commitment, the Illini will make their pitch next week and will sell him on playing for the state school and helping lead Illinois to the next level.
- Evan Jones, DB: The Georgia safety is ready to make the leap for Illinois but will need to visit Champaign first. The Illini will host some other options at DB before then, including Bryon Brown (a new name on the radar thanks to new assistant Paul Williams) and Micah Croom (who is waiting for a Stanford offer) and possibly Frank Coppet.