Jeremy Werner // Illini Inquirer

DE Zion DeBose on Illini visit: 'Illinois is a top school for me for a reason'

North Carolina defensive end recaps his official visit to Illinois and discusses how it will impact his recruitment

Zion DeBose has frantic January of visits before making his college anouncement on Feb. 3.

The Spencer (N.C.) North Rowan three-star defensive end said his first official visit to Illinois set a good tone.

“It went pretty good,” DeBose said. “Me and my family really enjoyed it. We were able to go down there and get a lot of questions answered and get a lot of one-on-one time with each of the coaches. It went pretty good.”

DeBose arrived Friday night and visited with academic counselors and professors in the architecture program, in which DeBose has interest. DeBose also spent time with his host, junior linebacker Julian Jones, as well as sophomore defensive tackle Jamal Milan.

On Saturday, he met with the coaches and took a tour of the football facilities and dormitories and met with the team trainers. He also met one-on-one with Illini head coach Lovie Smith for about 45 minutes and sat and watched film with defensive line coach Mike Phair and defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson.

DeBose said the best part of the visit though was taking in the Illini basketball game at the State Farm Center.

“That was probably the biggest highlight was the basketball game with the coaching staff,” DeBose said. “I was able to sit with the coaches and see the atmosphere and all the people that support Illinois with the basketball team. All the coaches were there.”

DeBose was impressed by his time with the staff, especially Smith. “Just his passion,” DeBose said. “He’s a real passionate and heartfelt coach just by the way he talks to me. I can get a feel of how serious he is about the game and how serious he is about coaching and how much he cares for his players and coaching staff. Me and my parents really enjoyed talking to him. He was telling us about how he has a six-year deal, so he’s really not going nowhere. That’s one good plus. I know I can go somewhere where the coaching staff won’t just pop up and leave on me.”

Illinois offered DeBose, a former Appalachian State commitment, during the fall during a monstrous senior season (20.5 sacks). Illinois now has made him one of their top priorities -- if not the top priority -- at defensive end.

"(Smith) was just telling me how much of a need I am for the program and not just a want,” DeBose said. “There’s only about two, maybe three defensive ends and they’ve been waiting for me to get up there and take a look at the place for a long time. Him and Coach Phair were telling me they want someone who can come up and play right now. They said I was one of those guys who could come up there and automatically contribute to the team. That really meant a lot.”

DeBose plans two more official visits -- Pittsburgh (Jan. 20) and Virginia Tech (Jan. 27) -- to two of his top-five schools, which also includes Missouri and Appalachian State.

How did the Illinois visit impact his recruitment?

“It actually went better than I expected, honestly,” DeBose said. “I wasn’t expecting Illinois to go that well. The crazy part was that I had fun and really enjoyed it and the students weren’t even back yet (from winter break). That shows me something. I was able to spend a lot of time with the coaches and some of the players and just talk to them about their everyday lifestyle.

“Illinois is a top school for me for a reason, not just because of early playing time but all around: the people, the academics. It’s just an all-around school, and I think that’s why I made them a top school. Plus, the coaching staff is just magnificent. All that experience collegiate and NFL-wise, it can’t get any better than that.”

Illini Inquirer Top Stories