Lovie Smith wants to beef up the Illinois football walk-on program. On Tuesday, he added some beef up front with Chicago (Ill.) St. Rita offensive lineman Jake Stover announcing he would join Illinois as a preferred walk-on.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound interior offensive lineman chose the Illini over scholarship offers from Illinois State, Butler, Drake, Valparaiso and others.
"My dream has always been to play in the Big Ten," Stover told Illini Inquirer on Tuesday afternoon. "One thing I've learned from this whole recruiting process is I have to work twice as hard to get what others are getting just because of height. When God finally gave me the opportunity, I couldn't imagine passing it up."
Stover, who participated in the Illinois Big Man camp last June, said he bonded with Illinois coach Luke Butkus and that the Illini's No. 34-ranked recruiting class in the country (which includes 10 in-state signees) impacted his decision.
"I love Coach Butkus and the whole staff," Stover said. "Also, the amazing class of 2017 swayed my opinion. I want to help lead a team to a championship, and this is just the team I have been looking to lead. I know the U of I is the right place for me because God guided me to my dream school after all the hardships I have overcome through this process."
Stover will join St. Rita teammate Marc Mondesir, a 3-star linebacker, at Illinois this summer.
"He is one of my best friends, and we always worked out together," Stover said. "We have the same mindset. When he committed, I was so proud of him because I know personally how much work we both put in. Once I got the opportunity to play another four years with him, I knew it was destined to be."
Stover said he knows he has a lot of work to do to earn a playing opportunity in the Big Ten. But he's not stopping now. After all, he had to work so hard just to get his foot in the door.
"I was a player they wanted to give that opportunity to because of my talent and work ethic," Stover said. "I'm not going to let two inches hold me back from doing what I was destined to do."