A.J. Sebastiano camped with Illinois last Tuesday. The North Broward Prep standout out of Coconut Creek, Florida, had trouble finding a flight after Spirit Airlines workers went on strike, but he made it to Illinois for camps at Northwestern and the University of Illinois.
Sebastiano is a national name after making a great impression in a top 7 on 7 tournament immortalized on internet video. The small school standout explains how his good fortune came about.
"I really developed my game my freshman and sophomore years, and my junior year showed up the best. After my junior year, I was asked to try out for the Under17 team in South Florida. I was told it would do wonders for me if I made the team, it would get my name out there.
"So I went down to try out with them. It was a hard two days. There's a lot of talent in South Florida. There was a lot of pressure, but I did really well in the tryout. So I got a callback when it was down to about 30 people, and they were taking 22. And I made it.
"Just from the practices we had...this team has a reputation as having some of the best talent in the nation. So I got to play with the best. Then we went to the tournament. I brought my "A" game, and I got my name out there."
Did the sudden notoriety help him get attention from colleges?
"I think it did. I got a lot of exposure that I wouldn't have had without the 7 on 7 team. I wouldn't be nearly where I am now. I still don't have any offers on the table, but I got my name on a lot of receiver lists."
While he hasn't yet earned an Illini scholarship offer, Sebastiano made an excellent impression at their one-day camp.
"I think it went pretty well. I tested on my vertical very well, a little better than average. Last weekend I was at camps at South Carolina and East Carolina, and I kind of pulled a muscle. But I was very pleased that I responded nicely in the forty and vert.
"And then in the individual drills, I did pretty well. The coaches gave me a lot of good feedback and suggestions on tweaking my game. In one on ones, I did real well."
That he did. Sebastiano has excellent route-running skills and catches everything in his vicinity. He would be an excellent complimentary player for schools with speed receivers on the outside. His 4.6+ forty time is his only apparent drawback. Still, Illini coaches want to keep track of him.
"Coach (Paul) Petrino and Coach (Joe) Gilbert talked to me a little bit. They were very interested."
It is easy to see the 6'-0", 180 pounder is a student of the game.
"I've been practicing a lot. I had a couple teammates the last 2-3 years that I could pattern my game from. They were around when I was coming up as a sophomore, so I had plenty of time to learn from them. And then I've really put in the work the last 3-4 years."
Unlike some Floridians, the Ohio born and raised athlete prefers to attend school in the Midwest.
"Definitely. Out of all the conferences, I think the Big 10 is by far one of my favorite conferences. It would be kind of a dream to play there."
Sebastiano made it to the Illinois campus in time for a grand tour.
"I was there all morning. I got there about 9:30 in the morning. I got to look around the facilities, the weight room, the Varsity Room and the Stadium. And then they put me on a golf cart and took me on a tour of the campus. I got a good look at the campus, and I really liked it. I really enjoyed myself."
Sebastiano and his father are traveling every weekend to see as many schools as possible. That is, if Spirit Airlines cooperates.
"If their strike is over, we have plans to go up to Boston College this upcoming weekend and up to Rutgers the weekend of the 26th and 27th. We've spaced it out pretty nicely so I can stay rested."
Of course, Sebastiano is working hard to prepare for his senior season, one he hopes will be a successful one for his school.
"The last two years, our team had players that made all-star teams, but we didn't have much depth which kind of killed us in the long run because football is a tough sport. So when we got to the playoffs, my sophomore year we lost in the first round.
"This last year we lost in the second round, partly because the starters were gassed. We're in 2A (6A is the biggest) because we're one of the smaller size of schools.
"But this year we've got a lot of players coming back and some key transfers. It will give us more depth, which will give us a break so we don't all have to play both ways. Last year I played safety as well. Perhaps this year I can stay on the offensive side of the ball, which will help us go farther in the playoffs."