During the last eight days, Vederian Lowe had two of his best performances ever with the instruction of Illinois coaches. So the Rockford (Ill.) Auburn offensive lineman figured he'd see what the new Illini staff could get out of him for four to five years.
Lowe committed to Illinois on Sunday following a strong showing at the Illini Big Man camp on campus.
"I just felt like that's where home's at," Lowe said. "I have really strong feelings for the school. I feel like they're going to put a lot of time into making me as good as I can be. They just really want me. I have a good relationship with (offensive line coach Luke) Butkus. I like the way that he's coached me during the camps. I like the strategy. I feel like he can make me a pretty good football player."
Lowe had been recruited by three Illini head coaches during the past few years: Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit and now Lovie Smith. Smith reaffirmed the Illini's offer following Sunday's camp, and Lowe committed just seconds later. He chose the Illini over interest from Wisconsin and Missouri, among others.
"I already had intentions of heading to Illinois," Lowe said. "(Smith) said he didn't even know. He was surprised. He didn't expect that. It was great seeing him like that. It was a very good experience. I felt the love. I felt good about it. I felt really strong about my decision.
"Having Lovie Smith there was a big part of it. He brings an NFL coach. I felt that's great. Not a lot of kids get to be coached by NFL coaches. He brings Super Bowl experience as a head coach. It just felt right to me."
Lowe adds strength to the Illini front five, but he's actually leaned down recently. He's dropped 30 pounds since the fall, which has made him quicker and more mobile. But he's kept his brute strength and even added a mean streak.
"I've just been told to get more aggressive," Lowe said. "You can't be a non-aggressive o-lineman in the Big Ten. It just won't work out. I just have to be a little meaner sometimes."
The three-star prospect was the Illini's fifth commitment in the Class of 2017 and the fourth in-state prospect to commit to new head coach Lovie Smith. St. Rita linebacker Marc Mondesir added another of each later in the day.
"The reason I think so many kids are committing to Illinois now is because they feel like they're going to be a part of something big now since Lovie Smith's there," Lowe said. "He talked to me about how he's going to turn the entire program around. He wants to get all the fans there and keep all of Illinois' best athletes in Illinois."
I'm a big fan of this get for Illinois. Lowe has been dominant in two camps for the Illini this month. He man-handled power-five defensive ends Joshua Maize and Jackson Perkins at the Barrington satellite camp. He followed that performance with another dominant day in pads during Sunday's Big Man Camp.
Lowe is a massive, powerful man at 6-foot-5, 337 pounds and has long arms (34 inches). Lowe lost about 30 pounds since the fall and moves his massive frame much better. But his newfound nasty streak might be as important to his recent progress. Lowe doesn't just want to win battles, he wants to dominate them. Most will look at Lowe as a roadgrader but he is improving quickly as a pass blocker. He has a devastating punch that often knocks pass rushers back. With his improved mobility, he usually maintains the pass block and finishes them.
However, his aggression can get the best of him sometimes as he tries to throw the rusher to the ground every time, which can cause him to lose his technique. He also must continue to keep that bad weight off and add lean strength.
Most project Lowe as an interior player, but the Illini have worked him mostly at right tackle. And with his trimmed figure and better footwork, he looks like a future right tackle.
Lowe was the best available in-state offensive lineman and is playing like he could compete with Michigan State commit Kevin Jarvis as the best offensive lineman in the state. Illinois has lacked size and strength on the offensive line the past five years. Lowe, along with redshirt freshmen Gabe Megginson and Adam Solomon, should help Illinois look more like a Big Ten offensive lineman.
Illinois has seriously struggled to keep the best linemen in the state, so this is a big get for Lovie Smith. He also continues his recent tear in-state. The Illini now have four commitments from legit power-five in-state prospects. In contrast, the previous Illinois staff signed just two in-state prospects in the Class of 2017.