Illinois may have received the benefit of some good fortune as Plymouth, Minnesota, standout Fritz Rock has signed to play with the Illini beginning next week. The Wayzata High School graduate plans to arrive on campus the day before fall camp.
Rock had a series of misfortunes that delayed his college plans.
"I sat out a year. During my senior year, I lost my dad. He died from a stroke. A lot of people didn't know that. It was real devastating. Also during my senior year, I didn't clear NCAA Clearinghouse. It was like two devastating things to happen to me.
"So I took a step back. With the support of my brother Patrick, who is my legal guardian as well, I went back home to be with my mom because she really needed me."
Patrick made sure his younger brother was diligent about getting the extra class he needed and staying in top shape for a new opportunity this year.
"While I was home, my brother still had me working out and working on my academics as well to clear the Clearinghouse. Now my mom's doing a whole lot better, and the Clearinghouse cleared me a couple months ago."
It took awhile for Rock to overcome the trauma of his experiences. After all, he was a three-star athlete with multiple college offers going into his senior season.
"I was heavily recruited. I was fortunate to do well in the camps and combines and got some offers. To be honest, I was looking at Arkansas while (Paul) Petrino was there. That's when the Clearinghouse said something about a class and I wasn't gonna make it. So all the schools backed off."
While Rock was hesitant to mention specific schools, at least three schools besides the Illini sought him once he was cleared academically.
"I had a couple Big East schools and one Pac 10 school show interest. But when all was said and done, with the support of my big brother who was there with me from day one, I pretty much told them I liked Illinois.
"Not just because of Coach Petrino, but also I went there for a one-day camp going into my junior year. I remember visiting the school and visiting the staff."
A summer visit to the Illinois campus sealed the deal.
"I had to wait until my brother got back into town to visit, but then we drove to Champaign and met the coaching staff. As soon as I set foot on campus, I knew this would be my home for the next 4-5 years. It's strange how the Lord works in mysterious ways, but I'm there now."
Rock had a great deal of success at Wayzata, but it was mostly on offense.
"I started as a sophomore. My high school is a 5A school, which is the largest class. I played two years as a receiver. My senior year, I played receiver plus some defense and special teams as well.
"My senior year we won the state championship. I was the MVP of the state championship game. That was kind of cool. I caught a touchdown pass and threw a touchdown pass. Whatever helps the team."
His lack of experience on defense will take awhile to overcome. But he has the athleticism to do the job at safety. All he needs is time.
"I'm listed as an athlete because I was projected to play defense because of my size. That's okay with me. I've always had this strange feeling I was going to play defense. And you know, defense is what I'll be playing."
Rock gives his brother special credit for allowing him a chance to get his life moving forward again.
"I've been blessed with having a good family. My older brother Patrick has been there for me since I was born. Without him, I don't know where I would be today. I'm grateful to him."
This could be a feel-good story down the road for Rock. And with the Illini needing some good fortune, this recruitment might be a shot in the arm for them as well.