CHAMPAIGN - Verdis Brown is a prospect who will cause an intense recruiting battle among some of the best programs in the country. But he's also the kind of high-upside, versatile prospect who will cause some in-staff competition.
During his visit to the Illinois campus on Thursday, Brown witnessed Illinois offensive line coach Luke Butkus and defensive line coach Mike Phair -- who often trade friendly jabs at practices and camps -- fighting over who should get to coach Brown, if he were to pick Illinois.
"They want me to come to their side," Brown said. "It's really a joy to see that you're wanted on both offense and defense. It's amazing. I'll be honest, (I'd rather play) defense, but whatever side of the ball they want me, that's where I'll go. I've been playing defense ever since I was in third grade. It's come naturally, and I like to come off the ball and ram somebody."
Brown will be happy to know -- though Butkus will not -- that head coach Lovie Smith sees him as a disruptive defensive lineman and as one of the former NFL coach's priority building blocks in his attempt to revive Illini football.
Illinois built Thursday's barbecue event to build camaraderie among their current commits, top 2017 targets and some of their top 2018 in-state targets, including Brown, Micah Jones, Quincy Patterson and Devin O'Rourke. The Illini are selling the 2018 in-state prospects to join together and start a program resurgence.
"Most definitely they want to try to get all the in-state kids they can and rebuild," Brown said. "I think that's an excellent idea, because, one, it's Illinois because it's the home state and the home town, so it's a very good idea."
The Illini are making a good first impression. During the spring, Illinois was the first to offer Brown, who competed in the Illini's satellite camp at Chicago in June. Since then, he's received five more offers: Mizzou, Purdue, Florida State, Toledo and Ohio State.
"That's a big deal to me (Illinois being the first to offer) because you just can't overlook them," Brown said. "They gave me my first shot. Because of them, all the offers started to come in.
"(After the big offers) I'm just trying to keep my head straight. You got to continue to work hard. You can't relax. Because now, people know you have all these offers and they want to come at you ten times harder and sometimes 20 times harder. You got to keep working."
Brown visited Illinois during the spring as well and said he plans to visit Michigan State next week.
"Right now, I'm just looking for a home environment," Brown said. "When I go to school, will I be missing home? And what type of atmosphere is there? I'm not sure (if location is a big factor) because I've been away from home. I've been to California, away from home and my parents, and I didn't really have the home-sick feeling. But when you want to come home sometimes over the weekend, you just want to sit down and talk to family, that's pretty important. I'd say home is like number three on the list."
What are numbers one and two on the list?
"The coaches are number one," Brown said. "Can I have a bond with them? Can I come in any time and talk to them? Then the second is just the regular students and how they interact."
Illinois seems to have checked off at least some of Brown's criteria during Thursday's visit.
"It was pretty relaxing," Brown said. "I got to talk to the coaches more and talk to some of the current players and future players. They're just one big family. They embrace everyone. They just have a positive attitude."null