The Illinois football team had 10 early enrollees arrive on campus once classes started in January.
From a depth perspective, Tim Beckman is probably giving thanks to this development.
With 18 players injured or unable to play in Friday night’s spring game, nearly half of the early enrollees are with either the first-team or second-team units so far.
“Due to depth and the situations we have with the depth on this football team,” Beckman said, “they’ve had to step up, and they’ve had to come in and be a part of this team.”
Junior college transfer Martize Barr has left an impression so far.
“Martize Barr is the first one you have to mention,” Beckman said of the wideout who helped Iowa Western Community College win a national title in December. “He’s running with our (starters) now. He’s made strides each and every practice.”
The same goes for cornerback Darius Mosely from O’Fallon and JUCO transfer Eric Finney.
“Darius Mosely has come in and been a factor in our program immediately,” Beckman said. “He’s run with our one’s and two’s. Here’s a young man that just graduated from high school and still hasn’t gone to prom yet, but he’s in the process of being involved in a Big Ten schedule. Eric Finney is listed as our No. 1 guy at the STAR position. They’ve been crucial.”
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said another JUCO transfer, Abe Cajuste, has shown a versatility in playing both defensive tackle and defensive end.
“He wants to be good,” Banks said. “The more you can do, the more you’ll play. Anytime you’ve got a JUCO guy that’s coming in, those guys want to play. He just wants to get out there, contribute and help us win. For me, that’s extremely good to hear because you don’t always find that.”
The same sentiment holds true for Finney, who will handle the role Ashante Williams played last season.
“He loves to play the game,” Banks said. “He flies around. He’s exactly what we’re hoping he would be. He’s been a physical presence for us and really picked up the system extremely quickly. He’s definitely been a bright spot.”
Illinois recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh has previously said Illinois could likely comb the JUCO landscape for one or two more players with the Class of 2014.
And Beckman is a fan of getting a player on campus as soon as possible.
“Those guys that have come in, they’ve had to be players that come in and step in and help us right way,” Beckman said.
Two offensive linemen, JUCO transfer Dallas Hinkhouse and Christian Dilauro from Green (Ohio) High School, are on the second-team unit.
“The learning curve is always a stress for the offensive line,” Beckman said. “It’s not as much the learning curve as it is the maturity of the body, the weight that needs to be put on (and) the strength that needs to be put on. We don’t see a lot of missed assignments from our freshmen or our junior college players. What we’ve seen is that maybe ... a six-inch step with the right foot needs to be better. Those are the types of things. The strength, the punch (and) the kick slides off pass protection (are) the things you see a freshman or a junior college player might be lacking in comparison to a young man that’s been involved in college football already.”