The clock is ticking on the Illini coaching staff. It has been for most of the past two years, it feels like. But this new-look staff knows it must make a splash in the Class of 2016, win in the fall and hopefully make a splash early in the 2017 recruiting cycle to win over whomever the administration picks as the next athletic director. With less than 11 days until Signing Day, time is running out on catching those (relatively) big fish. But the Illini staff has many poles in the water.
New York linebacker Elias Reynolds makes his decision at 6 p.m. today (Saturday). Scout national recruiting analyst Brian Dohn says it's down to Pitt and Illinois for the three-star prospect. Pitt has been the assumed leader for a while. In the last few days, this seemed destined for an announcement for the closer Panthers. He visited the Panthers last weekend (and visited the Illini last month). But Illini head coach BIll Cubit and new linebackers coach Tim McGarigle left a positive impression on Reynolds during a home visit this weekend, and the Illini staff was recruiting him hard into last night. Reynolds -- a big, run-stuffing linebacker who could play right away -- seemed torn even into yesterday, and I was told he would "sleep on it" on Friday night. We'll see tonight if he dreamed of navy and gold or orange and blue.
Illinois has reached out to four-star offensive tackle Erik Swenson, but there doesn't seem to be any momentum on that front. Illini tight ends coach Jeff Hecklinski recruited Swenson to Michigan, who this week dropped him after he'd been committed for two years. Northwestern and many other programs are in on Swenson too. Illinois had hoped to get him on campus in the next few weekends. They're last shot is Jan. 29.
Linebacker commit Tim Walton is visiting Syracuse this weekend. That's never a good thing late in this process. The impression is that Walton wants to play at Illinois, but Cubit's short-term deal appears to have him or those close to him wanting to consider other options.
Speaking of visitors, what was expected to be one of their biggest official visit weekends turned into a bit of a dud for Illinois. Now, they are entertaining three commits -- K James McCourt, WR Dominic Thieman and OL Doug Kramer -- and a few prospects who would help: DE Tymir Oliver, DB Evan Jones and LB Christion Abercrombie. But WR Brandon Benson reportedly didn't make his expected trip because of fears that taking the official would cause SMU (where he's committed) to drop his offer. Teams are playing those games right now. DE Kaderrion Mason, a Southern Miss commit and one of the Illini's top remaining targets, moved his visit to Jan. 29 as did three-star LB Dele Harding. Expect WR M.J. McGriff to make a visit then, as well. The staff was scrambling a bit the last few days. This weekend won't be what they wanted, which means next weekend must be a big one.
Dele Harding is on an official visit to Rutgers. They are the assumed leader at this point. Illinois just needs him to get out of the weekend without committing, then they'll have a chance.
Texas wide receiver Evan Fairs will visit Kansas next weekend. That's a recruitment Illinois needs to win. Fairs has told me before that he envisions himself as "a Big Ten player."
The Kentrail Moran defection had been expected for more than a month. Moran is a bit overhyped as a four-star prospect, but he's still a solid in-state player who could've helped Illinois. But academics were the main issue, and not just for Illinois. Moran is visiting Eastern Michigan, one of the worst FBS programs, this weekend. Rrunning back is not a huge need for Illinois with Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Dre Brown, Reggie Corbin and Devin Singletary all slated to be underclassmen this season. The Illini would like a short-yardage, tough back but Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year Sam Brodner seems destined to commit to Wisconsin after switching a trip to Champaign for Madison, and the staff seems on the fence about Alabama running back Tre Nation. It appears at this point that the Illini would rather spend the scholarship on an additional shifty, speedy slot receiver (McGriff) than another running back.