Cincinnati Colerain OL Howard Watkins on signing with Illini: 'It's just a great fit for me and my family'

Three-star Cincinnati Colerain prospect Howard Watkins is third offensive lineman in Illinois Class of 2017

Howard Watkins last month called Illinois his leader and said other schools would have "a run for their money" to beat the Illini.

Apparently a visit to Iowa State wasn't enough to sway him as the three-star Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain offensive lineman on Monday announced he had signed with Illinois and will enroll early.

Watkins chose the Illini over offers from Iowa State, Louisville, Indiana, Rutgers, Cincinnati and others.

Why Illinois?

Sign up for Illini Inquirer!
Why join?

"Why not?" Watkins told Illini Inquirer. "Like I told you when I went back up there last month, it feels like home. Every time I go back up there, I can imagine myself playing in Memorial Stadium. The fans are great fans, and the coaching staff is dope.

"The campus is beautiful. Your education stature will be so much. They have the most alumni. Everything fits my card of what I want in a college, and I'm going to be happy to wear that jersey with my last name on it and I'm happy to call Memorial Stadium my home for the next four or five years. My family loves it. My family loves the coaching staff. So it's just a great fit for me and my family."

Watkins continues Illinois' rebuild of the offensive line, which needs an infusion of strength and physicality. Scout lists him as a defensive tackle, but Illinois envisions him as a future quickside tackle due to his quick feet and athleticism.

The relationship with Illinois offensive line coach Luke Butkus was key in his decision.

"His last name is Hall of Fame right there," Watkins said. "Him being the offensive line coach, we've just built a bond. Things that we've talked about, I haven't talked about with nobody or no other coach at any other university. There's just so many things that I can't put into words about why I feel the way that I feel about that coaching staff and the university itself." Illinois has prioritized Watkins since the summer. Watkins took an unofficial visit with his father and uncle in June, then took an official visit with his father and mother in September and then followed up with an unofficial visit with his family and girlfriend in November. After the final visit, Watkins named Illinois his leader.

"(The recruitment was) just crazy, but I loved every minutes of it because I wouldn't think in a million years that when I was seven years old that I would be who I am today," Watkins said. "My dad pushed me hard. But I never thought it would be  this crazy. But I loved it and cherished it, and it humbled me really. It showed me how many coaches and how many fans knew who I was. I just loved it. I'm happy that it's over, of course, but all in all I feel like my recruitment was crazy and that I made the best decision of my life."

Cincinnati, a city just three and a half hours away from Champaign, is an area Illinois wants to better recruit. They now have two commits from The Queen City in the Class of 2017: Watkins and Cincinnati Sycamore running back Ra'Von Bonner.

Watkins will arrive on campus for the start of spring semester, which starts Jan. 19. Soon, he'll be a college boy.

"I'm just taking everything that's given to me; I'm going up there hungry," Watkins said. "I can't wait. I'm going to attack it. I plan on playing early there for Coach Lovie and his staff. I'm just going up there like, 'This is my world, and I'm taking it.' I'm not going to take anything for granted up there. Me and (strength coach Joey) Boese are going to put some work together."

Watkins is proud to be a part of Smith's first recruiting class and one of his first few signees.

"That's just like ... history," Watkins said. "Whenever you hear the Lovie Smith era at the University of Illinois, my name's going to be attached to that. That's just history in the making. Once we start doing what we're doing and once our boys get rolling and once we start doing things that the 2001 team did, it's going to be amazing. Just to know that I was a part of his first class and even if I get to go to the next level, I was hand-picked by Coach Lovie. Coach Lovie said, 'This is a guy that I personally called to offer. I personally looked at his film.' He took his time to look at my film. Not some analyst. Coach Lovie Smith himself. That just adds more being part of his first class."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories