Jeremy Werner

Decision Day Primer: Howard Watkins

Cincinnati Colerain offensive lineman Howard Watkins plans to announce his college decision on Monday evening. Illinois is one of the top finalists, along with Iowa State and Cincinnati. What are the Illini's chances with the three-star prospect?

Going for Illinois

Illinois has been hot and heavy for Howard Watkins since June, when he first visited the campus with his father and uncle. He then followed with an official visit with his mother and father. He then took a third visit in five months when he visited with his family and girlfriend in November. After that visit, he called Illinois his leader.

"I just wanted to see another game," Watkins told Illini Inquirer in November.. "I love the atmosphere here, so I came on my official for the North Carolina game and had a blast. I said, 'Why not come today?' I'm not doing anything on a great November day. So I said, 'Hey, why not come see my boys again?' "It's almost kind of home to me. I just like to see the environment, the orange and blue. I just want to see again what they're all about. I get to talk to Coach Lovie again. I just want to come up here and say 'hello' again."

Little has changed since then. Illinois has developed a strong relationship with Watkins, especially Illinois offensive line coach Luke Butkus. His family is really impressed by head coach Lovie Smith. Watkins and his family even bought a bunch of Illini gear during its last visit.

"They just want me. They want me now," Watkins said in November. "They say, 'Why wait?' They want me (to sign) and be a part of something special."

Illinois doesn't have to wait much longer.

Going against Illinois

Watkins originally planned to make a decision on his birthday, October 29, and Illinois was in great shape then. But he said other schools were showing interest. Turns out that Iowa State was the only other school to offer. He called Illinois his leader in early November and appeared ready to commit, but then took a trip to Iowa State. He at least gave the Cyclones opportunities to sway him.

Confidence in a commitment

On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest: 9.9 -- Anything can happen, but Illinois should feel very, very confident on Monday.

Commitment impact

Watkins would further fortify a strong foundation on the offensive line in the Class of 2017. Larry Boyd and Vederian Lowe are two massive, physical linemen who fit what Garrick McGee wants and needs in his power-run scheme. Watkins isn't quite as beefy, but he has a no-doubt Big Ten frame that should easily hold dozens of more pounds of strength. Watkins moves really well for his size, which is why Illinois sees him as a future quickside tackle. Another plus: Watkins plans to early enroll -- which would allow him to get in the strength program within a few weeks. Boyd likely will play immediately, and Lowe has a great chance to quickly crack the two-deep. Watkins will take more time, but he adds more of what Illinois needs: legit Big Ten offensive linemen. For too long, the Illinois offensive line has had to try to win the battle of the trenches with finesse and scheme. If Illinois could add Joshua Fedd-Jackson and Alex Palczewski to this group too, Illinois in a few years could have an offensive line that can power through some pretty good Big Ten defensive lines.

Watkins also would give Illinois its second commitment from Cincinnati, an area Illinois wants a larger presence. In September, the Illini landed Cincinnati Sycamore running back Ra'Von Bonner, who knows Watkins well. Illinois won't recruit and rely on the state of Ohio as much as Tim Beckman's staff. But Illinois sees Cincinnati -- which is just a three and a half hour drive away from Champaign -- as a fertile area where they can land a few Big Ten talents each year. Watkins, combined with Bonner, would give them a nice toehold in the area.

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