Big Ten Recruiting: Illinois

The Illini needed a big recruiting class and got a decent one, but it isn't expected to be a miracle worker for Ron Turner's squad in 2004. In our trip around Big Ten recruiting over the next 10 days, we start with the perception from an Illinois beat writer.

With only one victory last season, Ron Turner knew his work was cut out for him in recruiting.

Even if Turner had come up with a once-in-a-lifetime kind of recruiting year, it seems doubtful that he could find enough young talent to have an immediate impact in 2004.

Turner appears to have had a solid year, but don't expect any miracle.

The best of his new players appears to be Brock Bolen, a 6-foot, 230-pound running back-fullback from Germantown, Ohio. Bolen is a player who fits Turner's offense well because of his ability to run and catch passes out of the backfield. He rushed for 1,593 yards on 170 carries, a 9.4-yard average, last year at Valley View High.

"He's big and powerful, one of the best fullback prospects in the country," recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "Great hands, can block and run, he's a three-ring circus. He'll come in and play as a freshman."

Bryant Creamer called Turner the night before signing day to announce that he was going to Illinois. Creamer, a Chicago product, used his 6-foot-3 frame and 4.5-second speed to catch 23 TD passes last fall. He should be in the lineup right away.

"Bryant's a great player," Turner said. "He's got the body control, he's got the speed. He can be a possession receiver and catch the ball very consistently, yet he's a big-play threat."

Turner finished his coaching staff, naming defensive back coach Mike Mallory as the defensive coordinator. Mallory has a huge job in front of him, because the defense was largely ineffective during the two-year reign of Mike Cassity.

"I feel very confident in Mike Mallory's ability to run this defense," Turner said.

"He has impressed me in the three years he has been on staff, and his style fits my philosophy. I know that the current players and coaching staff have the utmost respect for Mike, and that is very critical to a team's success. His energy and enthusiasm is contagious to everyone he coaches."

Mallory just completed his third year as part of the Illini coaching staff, serving as both safeties and linebackers coach during that time. Taking on the role of defensive coordinator will not be new to Mallory after a four-year stint in that role at Northern Illinois (1996-99) and three seasons at Rhode Island (1993-95).

RB Brock Bolen, Germantown, Ohio — Bolen is a big, strong power back who reminds some of former Purdue star Mike Alstott. Bolen checks in at 6-0 and 230 pounds. He rushed for 1,593 yards and averaged 9.4 yards per carry during his senior season. He has a chance to be the kind of player who can carry the team's running attack on his shoulders.

WR Bryant Creamer, Chicago — He figures to be a starter right away. Creamer is big and strong and is a tremendous athlete. He caught 23 TD passes last year and knows how to use his 6-3 body to wall off defenders and make big plays. He has been clocked at 4.5 in the 40.

LB Sam Carson, Downers Grove, Ill. — The Illini defense has been awful for the past two years. The Illini are hoping that Carson can give them a lift with his range and tackling ability. Carson, 6-2 and 230 pounds, has been timed at 4.8 in the 40. He is a punishing hitter who can do an equally good job on plays at him or plays in which he has to run to the sideline.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The negative recruiting was the worst I've ever seen. I expected some of it, but some of the schools involved in it totally surprised me." — Head coach Ron Turner on the negative recruiting done by schools competing with Illinois for top-level talent.

GLANCE AT 2004: Things can't possibly be any worse for the Illini in 2004 than they were in 2003. The Illini got great news in January when QB Jon Beutjer was given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Beutjer has a strong arm and gets rid of the ball quickly, but he has to get better protection from an offensive line that was awful last year. DE Mike O'Brien was also given an extra year of eligibility. Expectations will not be high, so the Illini may be in a position to surprise.

PRO POTENTIAL: DE Derrick Strong — The Illinois defense was a sieve the past two seasons, but don't blame the aptly named Strong. He knows how to hold the point of attack and he can also get after the passer. He's not a huge man — 6-2 and 245 pounds — but he has the kind of frame that can handle additional weight and strength. If he can play special teams, Strong has a chance to make an NFL roster next season.

CB Christian Morton — He had a very disappointing junior and senior seasons, but Morton is a sensational athlete who might be able to make a contribution if he gets with the right coaching staff. Morton started off his college career as a receiver, and he may end up back at that position at the next level.

INJURY IMPACT: Beutjer injured his back midway through the season and was replaced by Chris Pazan and Dustin Ward. Beutjer should be healthy enough to play this spring, although head coach Ron Turner will go to great lengths to make sure that his quarterback does not have any "difficulties" during the extended practice sessions.

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