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DE Zion DeBose previews January official visits to Illinois, Pitt and Virginia Tech

North Carolina defensive end Zion DeBose has a final five that includes Illinois. He breaks down his busy January ahead.

Zion DeBose wanted to spend most of his holiday break relaxing, but the Spencer (N.C.) North Rowan defensive end spent a big chunk of his time away from high school agonizing over his next school.

DeBose has trimmed his list to five and has set up three official visits for this month: Illinois (Jan. 13), Pittsburgh (Jan. 20) and Virginia Tech (Jan. 27). He also still is considering Appalachian (from where he decommitted in October) and Missouri, where he visited in December.

“I had a bunch of schools wanting to get a shot and getting a spot for me to come see them in January," DeBose told Illini Inquirer. "Over the break, I tried to do as much relaxing as possible, but it was a lot of thinking and stress going on. There’s a lot of schools still trying to come in and persuade me to drop visits right now, but these are the schools that I feel I could see myself at. Not just them, but I could still see myself at App (State). I could still see myself at Missouri.”


DeBose dropped Rutgers and Western Michigan from his list. DeBose called said both are “great schools but that “my heart just wasn’t there.”

DeBose decommitted from Appalachian State in October after several power-five teams offered, including Missouri, Illinois and Pitt. Recently, Virginia Tech came in with an offer too. He said other schools continue to show interest but that a month isn’t enough time to get to know a program where he will spend four years.

What’s most important for him?

“Education,” DeBose said. “Education is key. You can’t always play football forever. That played a part. Secondly, besides Virginia Tech, a lot of the coaches are preaching to me that nothing’s promised, but if I come up there wherever I go and work, there’s a good chance of me playing early -- sooner than a lot of kids. That plays a part too. Lasty, out of all the schools, Missouri, Pitt, Illinois, Virginia Tech, I like the coaches, man. They’re real honest with me. They’re comfortable to be around. Those are traits that I’m looking for in the coaches because those are the coaches I’m going to be around for the next four years of my life.”

He broke down what he thinks of each of the schools he’s visiting this month.

Illinois: “Coach (Mike) Phair, the D-Line coach is recruiting me. He has come watch me practice a couple times He’s taken some house visits. Coach Phair, he’s just been telling me they’re a new staff and they’re just trying to get things going again because Illinois ain’t been doing too good. But he’s been telling me about the new staff and Lovie Smith and everybody else that’s come through and how much professional history they have in the (NFL). He’s been telling me they’re taking four defensive ends, and he said he needs people that need that confidence and that swagger when they play and that’s going to come up there and put in the work and just play. He said they need people who are going to come up there and make an impact early. He said after watching my film, I most definitely can be that player. He’s not really worried about weight because they had a defensive end (Carroll Phillips) last season who was probably 235 (pounds). They just need someone who can hit and run, and he said that’s my alley way. They like the way I play. That’s where I am with it. They got a lot of confidence in me, and I got a lot of confidence in myself. Hardy Nickerson and all of them, they’re great coaches. I feel pretty good about Illinois.”

Pittsburgh: “Coach (Tom) Sims, he’s a real cool dude. He’s so laid-back and easy to talk to. His honesty with me, that means a lot to me too. He’s told me they got defensive ends and they’re moving a couple of them to d-tackles. They also have what they call a flash end, and that’s kind of the lighter, more faster defensive ends. He said I got a chance of playing early if I come in and put in the work because they don’t have too many. They have seniors who are graduating. If I work pretty hard, I have a chance to make an impact early at Pitt too. I love the coaching staff. They all stay in contact with me and check up on me. I just love the coaching staff.”

Virginia Tech: “I went up there for a camp, and they loved the way I compete. They played me at defensive tackle. They wanted to see me compete there at the camp and at defensive end. They said I’m real athletic. That’s just some stuff that they’re looking to me as.”

January will be a hectic month for DeBose with a decision coming near National Signing Day on Feb. 1.

“I’m just going to take these visits and see where my heart is,” DeBose said. “It ain’t much to say about it or any way around it. It’s just where my heart thinks it’s at.”

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