Lovie Smith continues to put his stamp on Illinois football by preaching the importance of athleticism on both sides of the ball.
Last Thursday, Illinois hosted Dylan Zagula and a few of his teammates from Belleville (Mich.) High School.
Zagula is an uber-athletic recruit in the Class of 2019. He was a quarterback as a freshman before he was moved to the defensive side of the ball where he wreaks havoc at outside linebacker and safety.
“I had a great visit,” Zagula told Illini Inquirer. “I liked how the coaches acted, like when we first came in, they greeted us and took us around the facilities. We went into the coaching offices and met the position coaches. I liked how the weight room was set up and they had the nutrition station set up and I got a real close relationship with Coach Hardy Nickerson - the linebacker’s coach and defensive coordinator.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect has the length to be disruptive in coverage while also having the physicality to help stop running attack.
Illinois envisions Zagula as an outside linebacker and it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to continue to play a hybrid linebacker/safety at the college level.
“Coach Nickerson told me he sees me as an outside linebacker,” Zagula said. “He showed me some of the film from their spring practice and I liked how they used the linebackers. They develop linebackers really well here.”
Zagula has already began to hone in on improving his pass rush for an important junior campaign. If he can prove that he can pressure the quarterback consistently, then he will attract more Division I interest.
“My game is very physical and tough,” Zagula said. “I’m kind of big for my age, so I’m trying to improve my pass rush. I was always fast enough to cover but now we’ve just been working on the pass rush every single day.”
Illinois joins Central Michigan, Toledo, Western Michigan and Bowling Green in the list of schools who have shown significant interest in Zagula.
“It’d be great to play for Coach Smith,” Zagula said. “He has a lot of experience in the NFL and he knows what he’s doing so I think it’d be a good fit.”