Alex Palczewski held no scholarship offers from any level when he got into the car with his parents to visit Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 19.
His offensive line coach had sent out his senior film to coaches across the Midwest just a few days prior. Everyone around the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Mt. Prospect (Ill.) offensive tackle wondered if Division I college football would be in his future.
By the next night, Big Ten football became a reality. Illinois offered him a scholarship a day after he saw Illinois play Iowa.
“It was kind of unbelievable,” Palczewski said of the call from Illinois offensive line coach Luke Butkus and Lovie Smith.
Illinois identified a possible diamond in the rough. Palczewski missed most of his junior season due to a neck injury suffered in practice. The fracture of his C6 vertebrae didn’t require surgery. But after playing in just one game as a junior, Palczewski had to wear a neck brace for six weeks. He wasn’t cleared for physical activity until late winter/early spring.
“I knew if I wanted to play football again I had to make my neck as strong as possible,” said Palczewski, who added that he hasn’t had any neck issues since. “My entire motivation was, ‘OK, I m going to come back next year and do as best as I can to be able to get a scholarship to college. It’s awesome because my dream came true.”
Palczewski, who moves really well for a big man, had a big senior season -- obviously enough to earn an Illinois offer. The Illini coaches also like that he wrestles in the winter.
“Coach Smith asked how I got into wrestling,” Palczewski said. “I told him, ‘I just want to be able to compete. I didn’t have anything to do in winter. I didn’t want to do no sports. I wanted to compete.’ They told me that’s the type of mentality they need at Illinois. They just felt like how I compete. I go out there with a mean mentality and want to finish people off.”
The offer changes a lot for Palczewski, who admits that he hadn’t been too focused on the recruiting process. This offer has opened his eyes and likely will open the eyes of other schools.
Palczewski said Ball State and Northwestern likely will visit his school this week.
The Illini have a head start after Palczewski visited campus earlier this month.
“I really liked it,” Palczewski said. “They took me on a tour of entire campus. They’re renovating all the dorms there. They’re renovating the stadium there in two years. I really like the campus.”
Illinois is pushing for the in-state prospect as well to help strengthen their future in the trenches.
“They said they really want me there because the one thing Coach Butkus and Lovie Smith preach is they want to put a border around Illinois,” Palczewski said. “They really want me there. That’s what Butkus said. I really like Butkus. I really like him. He’s a lot like my high school offensive line coach. I just love it.”
Life can change quickly. It did for Palczewski in a weekend.
“It all happened really quick,” Palczewski said. “I didn’t think I’d get this much attention. It’s pretty cool.”