Deerfield (Ill.) defensive end/linebacker Joshua Maize grew up a Chicago Bears fan. So on his Saturday unofficial visit to Illinois, he was a bit excited to meet the guy he watched patrol the Bears sideline for most of his childhood, new Illini head coach Lovie Smith.
"The '06 Super Bowl was a tough one to stomach," Maize said. "At least we got there. That was about 10 years ago, so I was about 6. It's cool meeting him after watching him on TV all those years.
"I love (the visit to Illinois). I love the atmosphere. I love the coaches. The coaches are great. I love the energy they're bringing. It's a cool atmosphere. I really like it."
Maize -- a 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive end prospect who played linebacker last season at Deerfield -- has earned mostly mid-major interest so far. He holds offers from Wyoming, New Mexico, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois and has interest from several other MAC programs.
But Illinois has shown some love recently too.
"I love it," Maize said. "I talk to them, and I tell them I'm from Illinois. I want to play for Illinois. I love the state. I want to be here close to my friends and family and represent my state. So, hopefully I get the chance to do that."
Illinois has a big need for pass rushers in the Class of 2017 and will closely evaluate Maize in the coming months.
"They said they really like me a lot," Maize said. "They like my ability to play different positions and my range as an athlete. They really like me. Hopefully things turn out well because I'd love to play here."
What's next for Maize?
"Next week I'm going to Ball State," Maize said. "I'm just floating around. I get a new call every week. I'm just planning visits accordingly to that. I'm just really enjoying the process."