CHAMPAIGN - Four new Illinois football players have arrived on campus.
A source confirmed that junior college transfer linebacker Delshawn Phillips, Cincinnati Colerain offensive lineman Howard Watkins and Miami (Fla.) Central teammates Owen Carney and Carmoni Green have arrived on campus and will start class on Tuesday.
Illinois already announced the addition of Phillips, who spent the last two seasons at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, after he signed a tender of financial aid in December. But Illinois is unable to announce or comment on the additions of freshmen mid-year signees until their first day of class due to a change this year in NCAA rules. Illinois is expected to announce the additions of the three freshmen on Tuesday.
All four will participate in spring practice, which starts on Feb. 14.
Phillips, a top-15 overall JuCo prospect, is expected to make the biggest immediate impact. Signed by former Western Michigan coach and current Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck out of powerhouse Detroit Cass Tech, Phillips led JuCo national champion Garden City with 95 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss. He is expected to succeed Hardy Nickerson at middle linebacker.
Carney, a top-50 prep defensive end, chose the Illini over dozens of power-five offers. The Illini prioritized him more than any other program who offered, including Florida State and Miami. He is expected to compete for immediate playing time at defensive end, where Illinois returns only three scholarship players after losing stars Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips and grad transfer Gimel President.
Green, Carney's teammate, chose Illinois over offers from North Carolina, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, Utah, Washington State and others. The 6-foot-1 speedster should also compete for immediate playing time in a wide receiver room that lacked playmakers last season.
Watkins chose the Illini over Iowa State, Cincinnati, Louisville and others. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound lineman is listed as a defensive tackle on Scout's database but will play offensive line for Illinois. The Illini envision him growing into a quickside tackle. He will need time to develop, but the Illini are low on Big Ten quality depth, so entering the strength and conditioning program a semester early could help him crack the two-deep a little quicker.