Dunlap adds depth to defensive backfield
Alex Golesh said in early December the Illinois coaching staff was selling playing time to potential recruits.
Perhaps Jaylen Dunlap heard the Illini recruiting coordinator's message.
According to Jerry Verde, Dunlap's coach last season at Crete-Monee (Ill.) High School who has since taken the head coaching job at Marian Catholic (Ill.) High School, "the possibility of making an immediate impact," at Illinois stood out the most in his decision.
Dunlap's commitment to Illinois on Monday came a day after James Crawford from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., committed last Sunday, two players who might provide relief in the defensive secondary for the Class of 2013.
That unit took a hit in the past week after defensive back Reon Dawson from Trotwood-Madison de-commited before settling on Michigan while safety Joshua Jones from Walled Lake, Mich., re-opened his commitment after giving a verbal to Illinois last summer.
Dunlap, at 6 feet, 2 inches and 180 pounds, played for a state champion last fall at Crete-Monee.
The Warriors finished 14-0 and won the Class 6A state championship, featuring not only Dunlap but the top wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2013, Mississippi commit Laquon Treadwell, and Class of 2014 standout linebacker Nyles Morgan.
Illinois was the best offer on the table for Dunlap, who also sported offers from Alabama-Birmingham, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan.
Not quite the same as Dawson and Jones — who is believed to have narrowed his choices down to Michigan State, Pittsburgh or North Carolina State — but adding help in the defensive secondary is a priority for Illinois with this class, which is now back to eight potential players (seven if Ohio native Caleb Day is used at wide receiver).
Verde said Dunlap's biggest strengths are his speed and agility.
"He's also a pretty tough player," Verde said. "Although he has good strength, he needs to get "college strong", which I'm sure is something he will be able to do."
Dunlap made four tackles for the Warriors in their 33-26 state championship win against Cary-Grove (Ill.) High School on Nov. 24, and Verde said his ability to make plays during Crete-Monee's 35-32 win against Peoria Richwoods (Ill.) High School and Illinois running back commit Kendrick Foster in the second round of the playoffs made a difference.
"He's respectful and coachable, and he expected the most out of himself and his teammates" Verde said of Dunlap, who reminds his high school coach of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. "He tackles and flies to the football the way Tillman does."
With the pass-heavy offense Crete-Monee ran last season, squaring off against Treadwell on a daily basis in practice, plus playing with him in the defensive backfield, should benefit Dunlap once he arrives at Illinois.
"You improve based upon who you compete against every day," Verde said. "Competition always makes you better. He was able to compete daily against the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the nation. He will be able to compete at Illinois."