It's been a while since Illinois landed a defensive line prospect with offers from Michigan State and Penn State. But Lovie Smith has the chance to buck that trend on Thursday.
Huntley (Ill.) three-star defensive end Olalere Oladipo will announce his decision 6 p.m. Thursday at his high school. He has a top-six that includes Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State, Indiana, Cal and Duke. He also holds offers from Maryland, Minnesota and Missouri, among others.
Oladipo is the Illini's top in-state priority. The edge rusher is the state's top remaining uncommitted defensive lineman and would fill a huge immediate need for Illinois.
Going Illinois' way
First, Oladipo has visited Illinois a handful of times since Smith's hire -- far more than any other program leading up to his commitment. He has spent a lot of one-on-one time with the Illini head coach. He visited for the spring game. He stopped by the football offices when his sister, who attends UIUC, moved off campus for the summer. He visited when his teammates participated in the Showcase Camp in June. He visited for the Illini barbecue recruiting event in July with several Illini recruits. He is more familiar with the UI campus than any other.
Also, he wants to pursue an engineering degree -- a tough task for a football player -- and Illinois has a top-five engineering program. While Cal has a top-three engineering program, Oladipo wants to stay closer to home so his family can watch him play. That last fact seems to hurt Cal, Duke and Penn State.
Lastly, Oladipo has a path to immediate playing time at Illinois. The Illini only have three scholarship defensive ends returning in 2017 and none yet committed in 2017. Indiana, Penn State and Michigan State -- who most assume are his other top options -- each have multiple defensive end commitments. Indiana is prioritizing a Florida defensive end over him, and Michigan State has three defensive end commits and likely is full for the class.
Going against Illinois
Oladipo has kept his leanings pretty close to the vest. Illinois coaches were still trying to gather information on Oladipo's recruitment from outsiders as recently as last weekend because Oladipo hadn't tipped his hand.
Indiana appears to be the Illini's biggest competition if based on relationship. The Indiana staff has been recruiting Oladipo longer than Illinois, and he's visited the Bloomington campus. He also visited Penn State this summer. The Nittany Lions have more program prestige than Illinois and have sent several defensive linemen to the pros recently.
Confidence in a commitment
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest: 8 (eight) -- The amount of visits, the engineering program, proximity, familiarity, opportunity. It all seems to make too much sense. Illinois also feels more confident in their chances after Oladipo called Smith on Sunday for a nice conversation. Smith also chatted with Oladipo's mother (Smith's demeanor and philosophy will win over most parents, so that's a good sign). Since the call, more confidence has emanated from the Illini camp.
Oladipo would give another big notch on Lovie Smith's recruiting belt this month. First, he landed Antwan Collier over Nebraska and others. Then he landed Tony Adams over Mizzou, and Larry Boyd over Mizzou, Oklahoma State and Arkansas. Landing Oladipo over several Big Ten foes would be another big win.
Oladipo is the type of recruitment Illinois hasn't won recently but needs to win to take the next step as a program. The Illini nee legit Big Ten prospects, especially in the trenches. The Illini need to add about five defensive linemen in this class -- I'd suggest one or two more -- and Oladipo is a nice start.
Oladipo has a Big Ten-ready body and could make an immediate impact, a rarity for defensive linemen. Illinois has few desirable options returning at defensive end. Henry McGrew is a solid rotational piece. Sean Adesanya has barely practiced live reps due to a shoulder injury, and freshman Brandon Jones is really raw. It's not ideal to play freshmen defensive linemen, but Oladipo has the quickness, athleticism and strength to be one of the Illini's better options on the edge. Eventually, he could bulk up and play the three-technique defensive tackle.
Oladipo also is a great character guy to add to the program. He's a hard worker and excellent student who plans to pursue an engineering degree. Beyond his football talents, he should be a great representative of the football program, athletic department and university which he attends.
Oladipo also would continue the Illini's big in-state push. He'd be the seventh Illinois native to commit to Illinois. The Illini signed just two in-state prospects last February. Smith has given Illinois more in-state momentum than its had in a long time, a key for Illinois to build and sustain a winning program.