St. Louis (Mo.) Trinity Catholic coach Cory Patterson started with a familiar greeting when he gave Jalen St. John the big news.
"He was like, 'Ay, boy.' That's his favorite word," St. John recalled. "He said, 'Iowa State just offered.' I was just like, 'Thanks, coach!' I was shocked."
The Cyclones on May 11 were the first to extend a scholarship offer to St. John, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound Class of 2020 prospect.
"It's a blessing to see my hard work pay off," St. John told Illini Inquirer. "I just got to keep working."
Illinois followed up with an offer two weeks later. St. John, who also has earned interest from Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio), had familiarity with the Illini following a March visit to campus with several Trinity teammates.
"I like that because we had went to a visit up there, and I really liked their facility," St. John said. "Coach (Luke) Butkus, I like him. Coach Thad (Ward) is a real cool guy. Coach (Garrick) McGee is a real cool guy. They're some of the best coaches in the game."
Illinois has made Trinity an absolute priority. They have extended scholarship offers to six Class of 2019 prospects, and St. John is one of four Class of 2020 prospects to receive an offer despite just one year of high school football.
The Illini signed Trinity offensive lineman Larry Boyd in the Class of 2017. Now, St. John and teammate Ira Henry, a Class of 2019 prospect with an Illini offer, will look to fill Boyd's massive shoes at Trinity.
"He taught me a lot of stuff freshman year, so I just got to replace him," St. John said. "(Henry and I) both got to step up. I've just been working. I'm just working to get better, and I'm just ready for the season."