Illini Recruiting Big Board: Defense

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner breaks down Illinois football's biggest defensive needs and priority targets in the Class of 2017

Check out the Illini Recruiting Big Board: Offense

Defensive line

Commits: None

Remaining scholarship spots: 4-5

Priority targets

  • Olalere Oladipo, Huntley (Ill.): Currently, Oladipo may be the biggest name on the Illini board. Oladipo isn't a Scout 300 prospect, but he's a quality Big Ten DL recruit and and a big in-state test for Lovie Smith. Oladipo has visited campus three times since Lovie took over, so of his top six, the Illini appear the leader in the clubhouse for Oladipo's late-summer decision. But he recently visited Penn State and Duke, and Indiana has recruited him hard. Getting him would be a big win. Losing him would be a big bummer.
  • Juan Harris, Janesville (Wisc.) Parker: The former Iowa commit has quickly whittled his list to three: Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota. He planned visits to Indiana and Minnesota before making his decision, and Illinois is trying to get him on campus next week. Harris camped at the Illini satellite camp in Chicago last month and talked for a long while with Lovie. Illinois appears confident, but another source said he thinks this is an Indiana vs. Minnesota battle. Safe to say that Harris has been tough to read throughout his recruitment(s).
  • Owen Carney, Miami (Fla.) Central: The Illini have done a heck of a job with the Miami defensive end and has solidified a July visit date. But Florida State offered this week, and that appears to be a game-changer. If FSU pushes for him, Illinois seemingly would have little chance.  If the Seminoles wait on him though, the door may creak open again for Illinois.
  • Corey Bethley, Katy (Texas): The Texan would make a good fit as a three technique, but the Illini have ground to make up with a player who has offers from Baylor, Ole Miss, TCU, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and others.
  • Boe Tufele, Harbor City (Calif.): The Illini are the only offer for the strong but quick California defensive tackle. Hardy Nickerson has made him a priority, and the Illini would like to get him on campus this fall.

Prospects to watch

  • John Mitchell, Crete-Monee (Ill.): The Illini like Mitchell, and Mitchell likes the Illini -- one of his two power-five offers. But there are some academic concerns that Mitchell must clear up.
  • Caylon May, Rich Central (Ill.): May earned an offer from the previous staff and appears to have the raw skills: solid size and burst. But he needs to prove more on film to become a priority for the new staff.
  • Joshua Maize, Deerfield (Ill.): The Deerfield defender had planned a mid-summer decision but has decided to prolong his recruitment. He holds an Indiana offer and recently visited Penn State. Illinois is his dream school, though. If the Illini miss on Oladipo, will they move on to Maize? The Illini got a good look at Maize at their Barrington camp. Maize has some intriguing tools but is pretty raw as he transitions from linebacker to edge rusher.

Analysis: The Illini have no bigger need in the Class of 2017 than defensive line. The depth chart is scary next season. The Illini may even need a few 2017 recruits to make an immediate impact in the rotation. The Illini have done a good job entrenching themselves in recruitments for Oladipo and Harris -- two no-doubt Big Ten talents -- and solid prospects like Tufele and Mitchell. But they need to close.

Confidence level: 4, Oladipo and Harris would be massive gets for the Illini and landing the duo would change this confidence level to about a seven or eight. If it weren't for academic concerns, Mitchell's recruitment may have already been wrapped up. If the Illini miss on Oladipo and Harris though, this gets a bit scary with the Illini likely entering the fall searching for late bloomers. If it were up to me, Illinois would land five defensive linemen, but it's usually difficult for Illinois to find three Big Ten quality defensive linemen in one class, let alone five.


Commits: Marc Mondesir, Chicago (Ill.) St. Rita

Remaining scholarship spots: 1-2

Priority targets

  • Micah Awodiran, Chicago (Ill.) Marist: The Chicago linebacker has a great relationship with the Illini staff and is really intrigued about playing linebacker for Lovie Smith. But Awodiran's recruitment is a bit different. He's drawn to the best academics and Duke and Yale are both top-10 universities in the country. The Illini have sold their package well -- Lovie, Big Ten football and strong academics -- but it just might not line up as well with what Awodiran wants. Still, Illinois  hopes to get Awodiran on campus next week. A visit would be a good sign.
  • DeCalon Brooks, Tampa (Fla.) Gaither: The linebacker/safety lists an offer from Florida State, where his father Derrick Brooks played, but the Seminoles haven't prioritized him yet. Iowa State, Louisville and Rutgers also have offered. He'd be a good fit as a weakside linebacker or hybrid safety.
  • Diego Fagot, Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Calvary Christian: Illinois is one of three power-five offers for the big Florida linebacker, along with Pitt and Syracuse. He's recently taken visits to Tulane and Navy. The Illini will try to get an official visit this fall.

Prospects to watch

  • Tony Fields, Las Vegas (Nev.) Desert Pines: The Illini have remained interested in the Arizona commit. Mondesir was a surprise riser and he's a bit raw, but he's a phenomenal athlete and a great "fit" for what Lovie wants in his linebackers. The Illini need just one more linebacker, and Awodiran would be an ideal fit. Losing him would hurt, especially given all his intangibles, but the Illini have some other good linebacker targets still on the board. Also, linebacker isn't a huge need given that the previous staff just landed four 'backers in the past class. De'le Harding looks like a future starter, Jake Hansen looks like a contributor and Christion Abercrombie and Ayo Shogbonyo are solid athletes.

Confidence level: 6, Mondesir was a nice evaluate-and-close target, but the Illini need one more. Awodiran would be a great fit, but the Illini still have other options and linebackers tend to be easier to find than other positions, like defensive line.


Commits: Kendall Smith, Bolingbrook

Remaining scholarship spots: 3-4, depending on whether Smith plays receiver or defensive back

Priority targets

  • Tony Adams, St. Louis University High: The Belleville, Ill., native is set to make a decision in the next few weeks between Illinois and Mizzou. He visited Illinois last month and may make another visit to UI next week. Illinois is in a good spot, but Mizzou has a chance to sway him during a scheduled visit this weekend.
  • Antwan Collier, Miami (Fla.) Southridge: The Illini have prioritized the long Miami cornerback and are scheduled to receive a visit from him next week. If the SEC doesn't come hard after him, the Illini could have a real shot.
  • Juawan Treadwell, Crete-Monee (Ill.): This recruitment appeared to be coming to a close after he visited this spring, but the state's top safety has gone pretty quiet since. The Illini remain his only power-five offer, but Treadwell seems to want more interest without having camped elsewhere. The Illini really want him but can't afford to wait on him forever.
  • Russ Yeast, Greenwood (Ind.) Center-Grove: The Illini made the former Kentucky commit's top-six and expect a visit next week. But Iowa looks tough to beat here.
  • Josh Newman, Cedar Hill (Texas): The Texas safety is big, strong, physical and fast, yet the Illini were the first to offer. It's perplexing, but the Illini will continue to push for him and a fall visit.

Prospects to watch

  • Marcus Hayes, Rockford (Ill.) Lutheran: The Western Michigan commit doesn't have blazing speed, but he displayed great cover skills at the Illini's Barrington satellite camp. He's one to watch during the fall and winter.
  • Zyon Gilbert, Montgomery (Ala.) Jefferson Davis: The Alabama native visited Illinois during the spring.

Analysis: The Illini need defensive backs who fit Lovie's profile. The Illini want long, physical corners and physical safeties who can still cover a lot of ground. Basically, they want great athletes. They have a lot of their top options on the board and seem to be doing well with most of them.

Confidence level: 7, The Illini appear to be in a really good spot with Adams, Treadwell and Newman. Adding a Collier or Yeast would make this a potentially great group.

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