Ron Ullery has coached football at Centerville (Ohio) High School since 1977, with the head coaching responsibilities falling on his shoulders since 2000.
During that lengthy time pacing the sidelines for the Elks, he can’t remember a player at Centerville committing to a college this early, like Class of 2014 prospect Tito Odenigbo did to Illinois on Monday night.
“Illinois has always been his favorite school since he was a little kid,” Ullery said of the defensive lineman who was born in Decatur and whose father went to Illinois. “If he had an opportunity to go there, he wanted to go there. He has some special abilities, and it’s still early in the process. Who knows how many offers he would have gotten before it was all said and done.”
Ullery said Odenigbo, who is also a thrower on Centerville’s track and field team, has increased his weight to 260 pounds since Centerville’s season ended last fall. Ullery said Odenigbo played the 2012 season between 235-240 pounds, and projects he’ll probably wind up as a defensive tackle at Illinois.
“He has a tremendous upside,” Ullery said. “He’s very strong and very fast for that size and that position. He’s growing, and his strength is growing. I think for an inside defensive lineman, he’s a very fast athlete.”
Odenigbo is the younger brother of Ifdeadi Odenigbo, a freshman linebacker at Northwestern.
“His growth curve as a football player has really mirrored his brother’s,” Ullery said. “They’re almost identical from where they were at the start of their sophomore years. (Tito) hadn’t played a whole lot of football before his sophomore year, so it was much more of a learning experience. He was very, very raw.”
Odenigbo compiled 25 tackles and four sacks last year for a 6-4 Centerville program that has produced such players like former Ohio State quarterback and ESPN personality Kirk Herbstreit, former Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent, currently with the Cincinnati Bengals, and former Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, currently with the Green Bay Packers.
Ullery is impressed with the job Illinois coach Tim Beckman and his staff is making in Ohio.
Counting the Class of 2013 signees Illinois landed, Odenigbo is the sixth player from the Buckeye State Beckman has brought in.
“Their ties here from when some were at Ohio State and Toledo were strong, and they’ve done a good job of keeping those ties strong,” Ullery said. “I think they’ll make an impact here. There’s an awful lot of good football players in Ohio. There’s a lot of competition with the BCS schools and the MAC schools. These kids get hit from all over if they’re good.”