The Fighting Illini hosted one of the state's best juniors for the Penn State game. Lineman Tanner Crum hails from Mt. Carmel High School in downstate Illinois. Despite the loss, the junior enjoyed himself.
"I really like the coaches. They're down to earth and straightforward. I like the facilities as they just re-did them. I like the new weight room a lot. I haven't really visited other big-time colleges like that really, but I like it up there. It feels like home because my grandma lives thirty minutes away."
The 6'-2", 275 pound lineman has received interest from all across the country.
"Illinois, Louisville, Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Indiana, UCLA, Notre Dame, and Michigan are the ones I recall off the top of my head. The first letters I got were from Notre Dame and Michigan. For Illinois, Jim Pry is my recruiting coach.
Crum plays both ways in high school, and his talents have different schools looking at him on each side of the ball.
"Most of the schools are looking at me as a defensive lineman. Illinois is in that group. A few schools like Louisville see me as an offensive lineman. It doesn't matter to me which side of the ball I play in college. I just want to go somewhere that I can play and fit in."
Crum grew up watching the Illini.
"I'm a fan of a bunch of schools, but I'd probably say I rooted for Illinois just because I'm from Illinois and my parents grew up forty miles down the road from Champaign."
The 6'-2", 270 pounder prefers the Midwest.
"I think I want to stay close to home. I don't really feel like traveling very far."
Besides the Illinois-Penn State game, Crum has taken two other visits.
"I went to a Southern Illinois game a few weeks ago, and this past weekend I went to the Louisville-Syracuse Game."
The Mt. Carmel Ace realized he could play division one football early on in his high school career.
"It probably happened during my freshman year when I started doing combines and winning awards. I was told that I was really good and probably Division One caliber with the way that I moved and such. That's when the broad picture began to appear. Then it really hit home when I started receiving letters."
Crum helped the Aces post an 8-2 regular season record before losing in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs to Rochester, 42-14.
"I thought we would be 8-2 going into the playoffs before the season started. I think if we were in 3A, we would have gone to state. In 4A, being a small team, I wasn't sure how things were going to go. Last year was kind of a rebuilding year. This year was a pretty experienced group. We run a 3-4 defense and the option on offense.
Crum helps his team on both sides of the line.
"I play both ways. At the beginning of the year, I played center, but I play wherever they need me on the offensive line. I was mainly a guard or center type guy. Defensively, I was a defensive tackle."
When asked what he needed to improve on, Crum provided helpful insight.
"As a defensive lineman, I probably need to work on my speed and my ability to get off the line when the ball is snapped. I also need to work on getting off a block and taking on a double team better. On the other hand, I need to work on becoming quicker off the snap and maintaining my blocks better to improve as an offensive lineman."
Some players take the winter off while others play basketball, but Crum spends his winter competing as one of Illinois' best wrestlers.
"I'm ranked #1 in the state in the heavyweight division. I got second in state last year as a sophomore. I started in the 4th grade. I definitely believe wrestling can help you in football. In wrestling you learn how you can move better, how your hips work, and how low you can really get. I've actually gotten interest from Illinois and Stanford for wrestling so far, but I think football is my future. It's been my dream for probably my whole life."
Crum is a big-time Steelers fans and really likes the way Casey Hampton plays.
"He's not the biggest guy, he's not the tallest guy, and he's not the quickest guy by any means, but he moves bodies and that's what I like to do. He likes to lift and that's one of my hobbies."