Ryan O'Malley sat down with his family recently and discussed his football future. The Libertyille (Ill.) defensive tackle had just received a scholarship offer from Illinois earlier this month, the one offer he'd been waiting for.
His parents and coaches asked O'Malley whether he would receive another offer that would actually sway him from Illinois. As they went down a list of schools, O'Malley's decision became abundantly clear.
"I felt like it's home," O'Malley said. "I was sitting there thinking with my parents and coaches if there were any other colleges that I would consider accepting an offer over Illinois, and I really couldn't think of any. It kind of just felt like home. So, although my recruiting is really taken a shot up and I'm hearing from tons of colleges, I decided to kind of shut it down because compared to Illinois, Illinois was kind of my dream school. I didn't have any reason to hold back."
It helped Illinois that the O'Malleys are an Illini family. Both his parents attended Illinois and his twin brothers, Sean and Kyle, are enrolled to start their freshman years in the UI College of Business this fall.
"When I was growing up, I was always kind of a fan of them," O'Malley said. "When I went to the junior day and stepped foot on campus, I really loved the environment. Not only do they meet my athletic goals, but they meet my academic requirements. Since my brothers announced they're both going and my parents both went there, it kind of runs in the family right now. I just really loved the school. I loved the environment. I've always been this fan of Illinois and to have a coaching staff that wants me just as badly as I wanted to play for them was something special. They made it clear I was an asset to them."
O'Malley had interest from some other Big Ten and MAC schools, but Illinois was his only power-five conference offer. But he said some coaches backed off knowing he ws an orange and blue lean.
"They seemed kind of turned off considering the fact that a lot of colleges knew I was super passionate about Illinois and knew I was kind of pursuing Illinois at a higher pace than other colleges," O'Malley said. "Everybody started getting the impression that Illinois was the home for me and I was going to go there. ...I can't really blame them. After all, I did commit, and they were right. This is the place I wanted to be."
O'Malley fills a dire position of need for Illinois. Starters Rob Bain and Jarrod "Chunky" Clements will graduate after the 2016 season, and there is little proven talent behind them -- though redshirt freshman Jamal Milan is a starting-quality prospect. O'Malley, who visited Illinois last week, is the second 2017 prospect to commit to Illini head coach Bill Cubit, joining St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) running back Mike Epstein.
Tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski and defensive line coach/defensive coordinator Mike Phair led the Illini recruitment of O'Malley.
"These guys are just passionate as me about me suiting up in orange and blue later," O'Malley said. "I'm really interested in Mike Phair as a defensive coordinator. I think he's a great coach, specifically with my position on the defensive line I'm going to have a great connection with him, as well as Cubit and Hecklinski. Both just have this energy to them where they're not going to accept 'no' for an answer and they are really looking to turn things around. After hearing them speak, I just want to be a part of it. I just want to be a part of the group that is going to put Illinois as a big name again in the Big Ten."
With his college decision made, O'Malley is focused on leading Libertyville to another great season. The Wildcats went 13-1, losing the Class 7A title game to Glenbard West. He's also focused on getting his body and mind ready for the Big Ten.
"I just have a motor that never really stops," O'Malley said. "I just want it just as badly as all my teammates. The coaches see my work ethic, and that's probably the standout and Illinois probably sees that. They really like my desire out there, my hunger. I really want to work on in particular, considering I'm going to the Big Ten, I want to get my strength up as much as possible because this is going to be top-level players I'm going to be competing against, as well as my quickness because not only is it important for defensive linemen to have size but that first step and that ability to hand fight is so crucial. That's really what I'm focused on with my coaches. I'm working on speed training and I'm in there in the weight room four days a week. We're really grinding."
"O'Malley's a kid with a nice frame at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds. I think he can fill that out and be a true inside guy in college. He's already a strong kid and he's only going to get stronger. I love the way he plays. There's an intensity, an urgency there that not all kids have. He's faster/quicker straight line than he is side to side agile, but he has some burst to him. I don't know that he's ever going to blow away a combine setting or testing numbers, but the kid comes from a great program, is very productive and plays every play hard. I thought he was a great find by the staff and it's great to get him closed out early because big bodies who can move are hard to find." - Allen Trieu, Scout.com Midwest Regional Manager