When D.J. Edwards booked an official visit to Illinois, the Florida native immediately pictured skyscrapers in Chicago.
So as his flight approached its Bloomington, Ill., destination on Saturday, he was a bit confused as his flight descended into an airport surrounded by cornfields.
“We get into Bloomington and all I see is land and grass,” Edwards said. “I look at my mom and go, ‘What’s going on?’ She was like, ‘We’re going to see the city soon.’ Then the pilot gets on the intercom and he’s like, ‘We’re about to land.’ I’m like, ‘Ma i can’t do this.’ I’m from Florida. I’m used to cities. We were in the countryside.”
But Edwards -- and his mother -- quickly warmed to the unfamiliar landscape.
“She liked the environment because it’s a college town,” Edwards said “It’s a college out there. She don’t want me in the city with the chance to get in trouble and mess my stuff up. She liked the area for me and loved the coaches. That was the number one thing. My high school coaches tell me to look at the bigger picture. Don’t look at the buildings and facilities and fancy stuff. Look at the bigger picture. What is going to help you get to the league and get you a job afterward.”
Illinois painted a pretty picture for Edwards during his two-day official visit. He toured campus, the football facilities, took in the sell-out crowd at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night and met individually with the Illini coaches on Sunday.
“It was great,” Edwards said. “To be honest, the whole environment, the team and just the vibe of coaches. It felt like my coaches back at (my high school). I didn’t feel out of place. I felt like I was at home. They just kept it real. They told me it was, what it wasn’t. You know when you got to some official visits, everyone pulls out the red carpet. It was still red carpet at Illinois and all, but it was a lot more genuine."
“They told me they were going to get me the ball, but when they told me it with a vision and a plan,” Edwards said. “It was always about me, Ricky and Carmoni. It wasn’t like just about me. I liked that. Every other school, they say they’re going to get me the ball all the time and I’m the number one guy on the board, which maybe I am. I believe in myself, but I’m going to keep it real with myself. I’m a freshman, and I’m going to touch the ball 10-11 times? That doesn’t seem likely. I got to be real with myself, and I like that the coaches were real.”
Edwards also enjoyed his time with the team with sophomore receiver and fellow Floridian Desmond Cain acting as his host.
“I thought they’d treat me like a recruit,” Edwards said. “But it was just like my high school team. We were laughing and joking. It’s like I’ve known them for a long time. It was the same with Ricky and them. It was like, ‘Dang, that’s what’s up.’”
Edwards wasn’t deterred by witnessing the Illini’s 48-23 loss to North Carolina either.
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1705918-ol-watkins-illini-se... “The people they got now, they didn’t recruit those people," Edwards said. "They got to work with what they got. It was a good game to start out with. When they lost and went to watch film, it wasn’t as bad as the scoreboard looks. From the outside looking in, it looked bad. But it really wasn’t that bad. When I noticed that, they were down eight in the fourth quarter, I thought, 'Dang, it was close.' I was surprised with their performance. I thought it wasn’t going to be a good game because it was the first year. But for their first year, they’re really close.”
While Edwards’ mother liked the environment and academic support at Illinois, Edwards said he’s really attracted to the staff’s NFL experience. Seeing three NFL scouts in attendance at the game opened Edwards’ eyes too.
“That made it even better," Edwards said. "Me seeing them there in person, I was like ‘Oh man, this is a great opportunity.' Coach Lovie, he was basically saying that in three years to get all his players in the league. He had on NFL games in his office, and he was just like, ‘My goal is to get all my players there,’ because he was blessed to coach in the NFL and it was a great experience. He said that if in three years if you can go, he advises players to leave and they’ll help you get hooked up to finish your degree later. He was talking about how some schools don’t let scouts come in during certain times. He allows them all the time, spring, fall, whenever. He wants to showcase his players.”
Edwards said the visit has left a lasting impression on his recruitment.
“To be honest, it changes a lot,” Edwards said. “To be honest, I was taking Illinois’ visit just for the coaching staff. I liked the NFL coaching staff. That’s my dream (the NFL). That’s my goal. I’m going to college to go to the NFL. I want to get a degree too, but the NFL is my goal. They’re the college team with the most NFL experience. Everybody that I met up there, they talk highly of Coach Lovie Smith. He’s basically like a legend. Everybody’s saying, ‘How could you miss such an opportunity to play for Coach Smith?’"
Edwards plans a few more Big Ten and Midwest official visits before making a decision later this fall.
“I’m trying to get Indiana, Penn State and Iowa State,” Edwards said. “I’m probably going to take them three and just be done and pick from there. Right now, I don’t know when. I’m trying to get them situated. Then I’ll make a decision.”
His Illini official visit set a certain standard though.
“They stand pretty good,” Edwards said. “They’re most definitely in my top. They were already in my top, but they moved up. They definitely are in a good spot. My mom likes it too. My mom actually loves it. If my mama likes it, they good then. She liked the coaches and the whole environment and vibe.”