Jeremy Werner // Illini Inquirer

Dawson DeGroot makes first visit to Champaign after signing with Illinois

Dawson DeGroot signed with Illinois despite never visiting Champaign. Over the weekend, the Florida safety finally took a trip to his future home.

All's fair in love -- and recruiting. 

Dawson DeGroot found that out for himself in the days leading up to Signing Day.

The Ft. Myers (Fla.) safety called Butch Davis on Saturday, Jan. 28, to give his verbal commitment to the Florida International coach.

"About four or five hours later, I got the call from Illinois," DeGroot said. "I don't know if (the FIU commitment) persuaded Illinois a little bit, but anyway it happened, I'm glad things worked out to the way it's supposed to be."

Yup. Hours after "committing" to FIU, DeGroot was thinking of someone else.

"Illinois was something I'd been waiting on for a long time, obviously," DeGroot said. "I talked to Coach Lovie (Smith) and he just said, 'Hang in there with me. I'm trying to deal with numbers and everything.' It's something I wanted. Recruiting's a crazy thing, man."

DeGroot announced his commitment to Illinois on Jan. 31, a day before signing with the Illini.

"It was definitely hard," DeGroot said. "You never want to decommit from anywhere. It's a hard call to make. It's not fun for anybody. The DB coach there (at FIU), I fell in love with him there. He's a great guy. But two weeks later, he got called up to the pros, so I'm glad things turned out the way things did. You really can't commit to a coaching staff. You have to commit to a program and relationships with people you make there. It's a lot more than just the coaches."

DeGroot's recruitment was such a whirlwind that he committed to Illinois without ever visiting the Urbana-Champaign campus. He and his parents finally made the trip to Champaign last weekend.

"It's awesome," DeGroot said. "I'm glad I finally got the trip up here. It's fun seeing anything for the first time, like anywhere, but especially the kindness of everyone here it's just a home feeling for me.

"I'd been to the Chicago area and stuff, but I've known all the coaches here since the summer. They've been on me hard since the summer, so there's a lot of relationships here. And with everything online now, you can see it all online. They had me on FaceTime showing me around campus and the facilities. Even when I got up here, I feel like I've been here before. I like being up here around Chicago. It's a home feeling. Champaign's a great city. It's just good people up here."

With the craziness of his recruitment behind him, DeGroot is focused on the next chapter of his football life at Illinois.

"I think I can bring a lot, honestly," DeGroot said. "A lot of people I talk to think I'll have a good chance to play early and bring a big impact to the team."

DeGroot, a Tampa Bay Bucaneers fan, is a hard-hitter who draws comparisons to one of the better defenders Lovie Smith coached -- and a former teammate of Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson and safeties coach Donnie Abraham.

"(Smith) thinks of me as his little John Lynch in the making," DeGroot said. "I was actually born in Tampa, so I grew up a Bucs fan, so I've always known of Lovie and Hardy. It's just always been kind of a dream to play for them."

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