Illini football staff has a huge month ahead as they are scheduled to host some of their top recruiting targets
Illlinois football had a hot August in recruiting, landing commitments from some of their top targets on the board: Larry Boyd, Antwan Collier, Tony Adams, Carmoni Green and Olalere Oladipo. All are legit power-five prospects with big-time offers -- the kind of prospects Illinois needs more of to take the next step as a program.
While Illinois still needs to hold on to sign those prospects in February -- Collier and Green are taking other visits -- August gave Illinois a good foundation in the Class of 2017.
But during the past 50 days, Illinois has only received one commit: Ohio running back Ra'Von Bonner. He proved to be a solid get and a good evaluation. Scout recently gave Bonner a third star and elevated him to the No. 12 running back in the Midwest.
Recruiting goes in cycles and the start of the college season usually is a slow time. College coaches are focused on their seasons and rarely get on the road. Recruits are focused on their seasons. Only a few Illini targets committed elsewhere during this time, so the lack of commitments isn't too alarming.
The Illini are preparing themselves though for a big push over the next month. Some of their top out-of-state targets, many from Texas, plan official visits during the final month of the season. And the Illini staff already is preparing for a big push after the season. Some of the staffers prefer in-season visits before the weather truly turns and when they can see the game-day atmosphere. Other staffers prefer December and January visits when the coaching staff can truly spend all their time focused on the recruits and build deeper relationships with their families.
The Illini will take their crack at both tactics in the coming months, which will prove to be huge for this recruiting class. The Illini were hoping for some wins to excite recruits. That hasn't happened. Now, they'll keep selling Lovie Smith and his staff but pushing harder that immediate playing time is available.
The Illini have a good foundation on offense with their quarterback, two running backs, playmakers at receiver and two physical offensive linemen. They want to add more size to the offensive line and more speed at receiver.
The Illini's biggest needs are on defense, where they need to add more athletes in the back seven and more disruptors on the defensive line, especially on the edge.
How are they trending with their top targets? Check out the latest buzz below in the latest Illini Football TRENDING METER.
In the fold
Players who have committed to Illinois since last update
Off the board
Players who have committed elsewhere since last update
An official visit to Illinois seemed to solidify that Reggie Roberson
's commitment to Kansas is pretty "soft." Illinois really impressed Roberson on the visit, despite a loss to Purdue, with the speedy Texas receiver telling Illini Inquirer
: "It’s just going to be a hard decision now because I really have something to sit down and think about now because I really liked it a lot. It just felt like home. I felt like I was supposed to be there. I didn’t feel like I was in the wrong place or anything like that.” Illinois set the tone, but the Illini have some competition. Word is that ECU is a major player here. Relationships matter to Roberson and his family more than level of football, and Roberson's family took a liking to ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery
. But Roberson's dad is a big Lovie Smith
fan, and his mom really warmed up to the staff during the visit. Roberson himself saw a path to immediate playing time, and Illini wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker
has made him a priority for half a year. Roberson plans to take official visits to ECU, Indiana and Kansas before making a decision.
Largo (Fla.) defensive end Bobby Roundtree
recently listed his top-five: Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia Tech and Louisville. Many consider Michigan State and Indiana the favorites here. But Illinois quietly has put itself in a really good position. For one, Michigan State and Indiana both have three defensive ends already committed in the Class of 2017, while Illinois has loads of immediate playing time available. Also, Lovie Smith has taken a bigger personal interest in Roundtree than any other recruiting target. During the bye week, Smith took in one Friday night football game: Roundtree's. Smith loves Roundtree's length and speed and envisions him as a Julius Peppers-like defender for the Illini. Smith has a great reputation in the Tampa area. Illinois is trying to lock in an official visit where they'll go even more all-out for possibly their top remaining target.
Former Texas A&M commit Devodrick Johnson
surprised some when he locked in an official visit to Illinois on Oct. 29, just five days before his announcement date (Nov. 4). Johnson could play either safety or weakside linebacker. The top-200 prospect simply is the kind of athlete Illinois needs to take the next step in the Big Ten. A&M is still squarely in the mix here, as well as Texas Tech (he plans a visit there this month). But Illinois has made itself a major player.
Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson defensive lineman Nelson Mbanasor
decommitted from Oklahoma State following a visit to Arkansas. He also plans official visits to Texas Tech and Illinois (on Oct. 29). Why the decommitment? "Just the push from the other schools, Texas Tech, Arkansas, and Illinois," Mbanasor told Scout.com
"I feel like I ultimately have a better chance playing at those three schools over Oklahoma State." Illinois, of course, has loads of playing time to sell. But Mbanasor probably knows less about Illinois than Arkansas and Texas Tech, so the official visit will be very important for the Illini.
Cincinnati Colerain offensive lineman Howard Watkins
long had planned to make a decision on Oct. 29 with Illinois, Louisville and Cincinnati as his top options. Those plans changed. He told Illini Inquirer
that he is postponing his announcement, news that surprised those recruiting him. "I think that I was rushing everything," Watkins said. "I want to take a step back." Watkins said some new schools have started making a push for him but would not list those schools. But it's obvious that whoever has now inserted itself in the recruitment has caught his eye. Watkins is the Illini's top offensive line target left on the board, and it appears he just became more difficult to land.
It seemed Illinois was just gaining some momentum with Lancaster (Texas) defensie lineman Noah Jones when he committed to SMU in June just before the Illini hosted a satellite camp at his high school. But the Illini continued building their relationship, and it may pay off. Jones plans an official visit to Illinois, which may come on Oct. 29 but it isn't set in stone yet. Illinois really likes Jones as versatile defensive lineman who could play strongside defensive end or the three-technique defensive tackle.
Palm Beach Lakes (Fla.) wideout D.J. Edwards
didn't expect to be blown away on his official visit to Illinois, but he couldn't stop raving about the trip during a 30-minute conversation with Illini Inquirer following the visit. The electrifying 6-foot-2 wideout said the trip opened his eyes for he and his mother. “They’re most definitely in my top," he told Illini Inquirer
. "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." His mother loves the academics and the quiet Midwestern feel of campus. Edwards plans official visits to Indiana, Penn State and Iowa State. The Illini put themselves in a solid standing with Edwards but are also in on some other top receiver targets.
This has turned into a waiting game for Illinois. Miami (Fla.) Central defensive end Owen Carney
spent three days on the Illini campus last week, and the Illini have come out of the visit as a major player for Carney. But Carney keeps telling anyone who is interested that Florida State, which has "offered," is his leader. Then why hasn't he committed to the Seminoles? Well, is that FSU offer really committable? If it is or becomes committable, FSU seems the likely destination. But if it isn't, Illinois is near the top of his list because they have prioritized him, would take him as an early enrollee and offer him immediate playing time. The Illini continue to make their push, selling that he's been their Plan A all along. Carney, who is teammates with Illini commit Carmoni Green, said he wants to wait until December to announce his decision. It might not be a bad thing for the Illini if he takes some time to think about it -- or if Florida State takes another defensive end. "I think I can really come in right away (at Illinois) and make an impact," Carney told Illini Inquirer
. "I'm going to be a mid-year (enrollee), so I'm going to try to make a run for a starting job right away. And I feel like the scheme fits me. I can really be successful in their defense."
Illinois is trying to start a mini pipeline to California, and outside of Tufele, they may sit best with Sacramento safety Trajon Cotton
. The top-45 safety plans an official visit to Illinois on Nov. 5. Still, the Illini have a lot of ground to make up. Cotton raved about his recent official visit to Nebraska
and also visited Oregon. He will head to Colorado this weekend.
Arizona Western cornerback Keisean Nixon
, who has two years of eligibility left, tops the Illini's JUCO wish list. Illinois isn't happy with its short-term cornerback depth chart and want someone who can come in and start right away -- and for two years. But they aren't the only program with those thoughts. Nixon already has visited Colorado State and Iowa State and has locked in a visit to Missouri on Nov. 25. Illinois hopes to get him on campus later this fall.
Illinois is in the top-five for Alabama offensive lineman Preston Mixon
, along with Cincinnati, Nevada, Memphis and Florida Atlantic. Mixon has been pretty quiet lately. His coaching staff doesn't like its players to delve fully into recruiting until after the prep season, but expect Mixon to visit Illinois in December. Mixon is a bit of a project and while he plays offensive tackle in high school, Illinois envisions him as a physical center who can help the Illini get a better push on the interior. As the only power-five team in his top-five, Illinois seems to be in a great position. But Mixon made it clear that conference isn't one of the most significant factor in his decision. "Big Ten, SEC and all that stuff, that really doesn't matter," Mixon told Illini Inquirer
. "I just want to go somewhere and play and get my education. Basically, I want to play in the NFL. But as long as I do what I want to do at the next level, the NFL is going to come to me."
Adamsville (Ala.) Minor receiver Jaylond Adams
isn't as refined as some other Illini receiver targets, but few are faster. When he gets the ball in his hands, Adams can be electric as both a receiver and returner. Adams took an unofficial visit to Illinois during the summer and expects to take an official visit this fall or winter.
With so few available, realistic defensive line targets, Illinois may need to find some sleeper defensive linemen in this class to get to their desired DL allotment in this class (four to five). The Illini were the first power-five to jump on board with an offer to California defensive tackle Boe Tufele
. With offers from the likes of Northern Colorado, North Carolina Central, Coastal Carolina and Dixie State, Tufele hasn't delved too much into recruiting yet. If there is real interest between the two, expect Tufele to visit Illinois this fall.Given his options, it's no secret that Illinois is in a great spot to land a sleeper prospect they've identified. "I think that out of all the schools that have offered me, this (Illinois) would be my best choice," Tufele told Illini Inquirer
. "I think it’s the biggest one I got so far. If I were to chose, I would choose Illinois." If he doesn't visit, that probably tells us that he has fallen down the Illini's board.
Illinois increased its interest in Rich Central (Ill.) defensive tackle Caylon May
earlier this fall but hasn't yet made the push the previous staff had made. Despite his combination of size and athleticism and his pretty good film, May has no power-five offers. He took an unofficial visit for the UNC game. Illinois continues to monitor him but hasn't prioritizedhim. "They want to see my senior season, and they said they'll go from there," May told Illini Inquirer
. "But they really like me, and they like that I play physical and run hard." The Illini need a lot of help up front and there are very few available Midwestern defensive linemen with intriguing size and athleticism like May. Illini Inquirer would have offered by now. If the Illini pull the trigger, May could make a quick decision. "It would mean a lot," May said. "It'd give me another hard decision to make."
Illinois was hoping this arrow would be pointed up. Top-50 overall prospect Jeff Thomas was scheduled to take an unofficial visit to Illinois for the North Carolina game. It would have been his second trip to Champaign in a month and suggested that Illinois is a serious consideration for the electrifying receiver. But Mother nature intervened with rain postponing his Friday game to Saturday, keeping him away from C-U. Thomas told Scout.com that he is down to two options: Missouri and Alabama. There is a lot of local pressure on Thomas to go to Mizzou, and Alabama is Alabama. But Illinois has a few people in their corner in the St. Louis area who will try to help get him back to campus for another visit. Also, Thomas has serious academic questions, so the odds seem low for Illinois. But for this kind of special talent with elite speed and quickness, Illinois will keep making a huge push. But they seem to be climbing a steep mountain.
Florida commit Elijah Blades, a four-star cornerback, is keeping his recruitment open. He recently visited Utah, Washington State and Florida. He also has official visits planned for Nebraska (Nov. 12) and Illinois (Nov. 19). That's some stiff competition, but you never know what can happen on a visit.
Crete-Monee defensive back Juawan Treadwell has kept a laissez-faire approach to recruiting. "I'm just waiting on recruiting to come to me right now," Treadwell told Illini Inquirer last month. "I'm going to take visits, though. I want to do those real soon since college games started." But that approach may be to his own detriment. In April, Treadwell seemed close to committing to Illinois, but he has been pretty tough to get a read on since. Illinois has invited him to several events, but he hasn't made the effort to attend them. He seems to have an eye now for Minnesota. Why? The Gophers have produced several NFL defensive backs recently. But the bigger factor may be that his big brother, LaQuon Treadwell, plays for the Minnesota Vikings. Illinois still wants Treadwell, but they're also pursuing other defensive backs and won't wait on Treadwell.
Like Treadwell, teammate and Crete-Monee defensive tackle John Mitchell
looked close to popping to Illinois during the summer. He took in two Illini satellite camps in June on back-to-back days just to hang out and see the Illini staff. But Mitchell's recruitment has stalled since then. "I'm keeping my options open and looking at all the schools," he told Illini Inquirer this month
. "I'm wanting to get to any that I can get to." Right now, the Illini are one of just two power-five offers along with Syracuse. But Mitchell has passed up some opportunities to visit Illinois. He's a nice prospect and Illinois needs defensive linemen. But the lack of enthusiasm lately mixed with some academic issues seemed to have cooled a relationship that during the summer looked like it could get hot and heavy.
Illinois needs some impact edge rushers and defensive line coach Mike Phair is trying to find some success recruiting his home state of Arizona. He has focused some recent attention on 6-foot-5, 215-pound top-60 defensive end Odua Isibor
. Illinois is hoping to get him on campus this fall. But this relationship is pretty new, and Isibor has offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado and USC. Can the Illini pull him away from the Pac-12? That seems tough, especially after Isibor told Scout.com this month that "(proximity to home) is starting to matter a bit more. I feel like it would be a lot easier to deal with a new academic setting and a new setting in general if I was closer to home."
Texas safety Josh Newman visited Illinois in August and told Illini Inquirer then, "It's my number one now, really." Newman definitely is an intriguing athlete and fits Illinois' mold to increase team speed. Illinois offered Newman after he shined at the Illini's satellite camp in Dallas in June, including a 4.54-second 40-yard dash. Newman's only other offer is Texas State, but playing on a really talented team at Cedar Hill, he will play out this season and see what other opportunities could come up. Illinois seems to have focused on other athlete/safety options at the moment. Newman and Illinois could circle back to each other later in the process, though.
Silsbee (Texas) running back Calvin Tyler
seemed close to an Illinois commitment in August, but Illinois turned its attention to Ra'Von Bonner, a bigger back, and landed him. Tyler isn't a workhorse back due to his lack of size, but he has phenomenal speed and would be a dangerous weapon to add to the arsenal. He's having a big high school season. He has quick burst, change of direction and top-end speed. Illinois seems out of the picture, unless one of their current RB commits go elsewhere.
The Michigan State asked to visit Illinois last month, and Illinois obliged. But the Illini haven't showed an overwhelming interest in Smith Jr., who looks more like a rotation player than high-impact Big Ten defensive tackle. Illinois has some solid young defensive tackles, including Jamal Milan, Tito Odenigbo, Kenyon Jackson and Tymir Oliver. The Illini would rather use a scholarship on a long-term, prep defensive tackle or a high-impact JUCO defensive tackle.
Four-star athlete and former Kentucky commit Russ Yeast
attended the Illini barbecue in July and stayed a few hours longer than expected. But Illinois' chances are so slim here. Louisille has emerged as a major player, as well as Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss.