Meet the Illini's Class of 2014

Meet the Illini's Class of 2014

Had the chance to talk to almost all of the Illinois recruits who are a part of the Class of 2014. Tim Beckman's third class is comprised of 13 high school players and five junior college transfers. Here's what they had to say:

Nick Allegretti, C
Lincoln-Way East, 6-4, 305

Our take: Allegretti is the lone interior offensive lineman for Illinois in this class. He’ll likely get his first chance to play at center, but could possibly move to either left or right guard if coaches feel he fits in best there. A standout student, Allegretti received some notoriety at the start of 2014 for playing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. He became the second commit in the class when he verbally pledged to Illinois the night of March 11.

Why Illinois? I love the school and always have. The coaching staff is phenomenal, and I believe they have turned the program in the right direction. My brother will also be at Illinois for three years while I’m in school there and will be able to help me with the very tough business school classes.

Favorite moment in football? My favorite football memory is my last drive as a high school football player down in Edwardsville for a Class 7A state quarterfinal game. We lost, but on my last drive, we went 97 yards to take the lead with only two minutes left, and I got to do that with my best friends. It was a tremendous experience.

Favorite football player, college or pro? Adam Gettis, who plays guard for the Washington Redskins, is my favorite player because he was the first professional football player to come out of my school, and he also plays offensive line.
Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? I am really looking forward to playing Northwestern because it is in an in-state rivalry, and it is a very intense game every year. I have a former teammate, Tom Fuessel, who is playing for them, so it will be fun to play against him.

What’s your hidden talent? My hidden talent is that I can finish a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute.

What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses? I believe my pass blocking is the area that I must improve the most at. I feel that my run blocking is my strength, but I’ll have to put on more muscle to continue to be a good run-blocker.

Geronimo Allison, WR
Iowa Western CC, 6-3, 185

Our take: Poor grades at Spoto (Fla.) High School kept the Tampa native from attracting much attention before he left high school. And kept him from playing quite a bit of high school football. But the wideout, who committed July 25, produced 69 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns this past fall at Iowa Western, becoming the go-to option for the Reivers. He should have a chance for playing time next fall given the lack of proven depth Illinois has at the position.

Why Illinois? It was the best choice for me coming out of Iowa Western. I really had a bond with the coaches. I just felt at home.

Favorite moment in football? My favorite moment is just being blessed to play the game. Everything you’ve got to look at as an opportunity. Some kids are not blessed with these opportunities that we have.

Favorite football player, college or pro? My favorite football player is Calvin Johnson. That’s my style of play. He’s a big receiver who just does what he does to do and go make plays.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Ohio State. They’re the top dog. Everybody wants to beat Ohio State. I know that if there’s a game I want to ball out the hardest and put everything on the line, it would be that game.

What’s your hidden talent? Most people think I’m just a jump-ball receiver because I’m big and tall, but I was never raised like that. I like to play fast and quick.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? Yes, sir I will be playing. I came in here to start, and I came in here to win the job. Going through spring and going through fall, I think I’ll be out there for the first game.

Chayce Crouch, Quarterback
Newark (Ohio) Catholic, 6-4, 220

Our take: Most likely will use a redshirt season in 2014 given Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O’Toole will probably find themselves ahead of Crouch, who committed on May 2, on the depth chart. Could compete for playing time in future seasons depending how the quarterback situation unfolds. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit likes the way the ball comes out of his hands, and he also has the ability to make plays with his feet if situation arises.

Why Illinois? There’s multiple reasons why I decided to come here. The fact that it was my first Big Ten offer really meant a lot to me. The fact that Coach Cubit and Coach Golesh were willing to come out and see me throw at 6 in the morning meant a lot to me. I feel like I have the best relationship with Coach Cubit out of any other quarterback coach I talked to, and Coach Golesh is a great recruiter. He stopped by my school a fair amount of times, and we always had something to talk about.

Favorite moment in football? The ride to playing for a state title my junior year was really special. We knocked off some really good programs. That whole playoff run, our team was really clicking on all cylinders. That whole experience was definitely the best one of my career.

Favorite football player, college or pro? I’m going to say Johnny Manziel. The fact that I see him as the David in the David and Goliath situation. He’s kind of a little guy, and the things he does on the football field, he’s not supposed to be able to do.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Ohio State. I’m definitely looking forward to playing them the most because they’re at the top of the totem pole right now, along with Michigan State. The fact that I’m an Ohio kid and growing up with all the Ohio State fans, that’s the team in Ohio. If we can beat them, that would be our staple game to show people that we’re the real deal.

What’s your hidden talent? I can make myself sneeze at any point in time, and I can throw a football left-handed 35 yards.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? At this point in time, obviously I have no idea. From what I do know, the quarterback competition is pretty much wide open right now. No starter’s been named, and really, we haven’t gotten any information on it. I’m just coming in and doing the things that I was raised to do and competing as hard as I possibly can. If I keep doing that, things will work out in the end.

Peter Cvijanovic, OL
East Coast Prep (Mass.), 6-4, 305

Our take: Projected as a tackle, Cvijanovic has good bloodlines. Older brother Simon will head into the 2014 season entrenched at the left tackle position. Cvijanovic, who committed on Oct. 7, has the added experience of playing last fall at a prep school in Massachusetts. The Cleveland native has filled out well since he graduated high school last summer, another aspect the Illinois coaches like about the under-the-radar prospect.

Why Illinois? A primary reason was my older brother Simon. Another reason was I wanted to get this whole recruiting process over, so I committed the day after I got the offer.

Favorite moment in football? Playing against Army this past prep school season. That was a whole other level of talent. You have to realize when you play high school kids that they’re like half your size, and then you go to prep school, and everybody’s a little bit bigger. At Army, everybody was the same size, so it was an eye-opener. I really enjoyed it.

Favorite football player, college or pro? LeCharles Bentley is a guy who helped me with my pass form and a whole bunch of footwork. I went to a LeCharles Bentley offensive line camp my junior year, and I learned so much. Another one would be my brother Simon because he taught me some of the ropes with recruiting.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Probably Ohio State because it’s the home-state rivalry. I have a bunch of friends who go to Ohio State, and I get Instagram photos of them going to Ohio State games. Then I start to think, ‘Hey, I’m going to be playing your team,’ so that’s cool.

What’s your hidden talent? I can do homework to Dubstep music. It just gets me in the zone.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I sure hope so. I’m fired up to play them after going through the recruiting process.

Matt Domer, RB
Chicago Mount Carmel, 6-0, 188

Our take: A slight knee injury limited the numbers Domer could have put up this season. But he certainly played well in the playoffs for the Caravan, who won the Class 7A state title in November. An athletic runner with good field vision, Domer has a nice blend of speed and power. Those attributes helped him rush for 2,844 yards, 36 touchdowns and average 8.3 yards a carry his last two seasons at Chicago Mt. Carmel, which ended with two state titles.

Why Illinois? I wanted to be a difference-maker in my state and come play early on a big stage. It is close enough that my family can make it to the majority of my games, too.

Favorite moment in football? Winning a state championship my junior and senior seasons. Coming out as the best team is an amazing feeling.

Favorite football player, college or pro? My favorite college player is Tre Mason and my favorite NFL player is Marshawn Lynch. They both are really good, explosive backs. I want to make a statement like them.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Ohio State. I grew up watching them all the time and always wanted the experience to play against a great team like them. Now I get my chance.

What’s your hidden talent? I’m probably, hands down, the best “Call of Duty,” player in America.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? That is my goal to come in and play right away. That’s why I have been training very hard this offseason, so when I get down to school I will compete for playing time.

Mike Dudek, WR
Neuqua Valley, 5-11, 180

Our take: Upon first glance, may not look like much. Just don’t ask any DuPage Valley Conference coach who went against the ultra-quick wideout. Dudek, who committed April 3, is a speedster who had no problem going deep or across the middle this past fall in Naperville, hauling in 69 receptions for 1,384 yards and 19 touchdowns. Not the best candidate for a jump ball in the end zone against Big Ten defensive backs, but could hurt defenses by stretching the field.

Why Illinois? The reason why I chose Illinois was it was everything I wanted for myself and my family. First off, you get the degree here, which is really good considering it’s a top 15 school in the country. Another thing was it’s really close to home. I’m a big family guy, so seeing my parents as much as possible was a key thing for me. Playing for my in-state school, I get to represent the team who I grew up my whole life watching. The team is definitely on the rise, the coaching staff is getting it together, and hopefully next year we’ll do some things people might not think we’ll do.

Favorite moment in football? My most favorite moment was probably beating our rival in Waubsonie Valley of my senior season. We beat them my junior season, too, but the senior season is a big thing because that’s the game you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Favorite football player, college or pro? Wes Welker, but probably everyone thinks that already. A lot of people compare us to each other. He’s a hard-working guy and nothing was ever given to him. He does what he does on the field and a lot of people respect him for that. I like him the most.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? The team I’m most looking forward to playing has got to be Ohio State. All my family is from Ohio. I grew up with my brother, and my brother was a huge Ohio State fan, and I actually liked Michigan, but that was when I was way younger. My dad liked Ohio State, and it’s going to be fun playing against them. I know some guys that are committed there, so it’ll be fun playing against them.

What’s your hidden talent? My hidden talent is that I can use both my hands for a lot of different things, whether it’s golf or baseball. I can only throw with my right hand, but I can play lacrosse with both hands. I’m somehwat ambidextrous.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? Of course, everyone hopes to be playing, but you’ve got to know that nothing’s given to you. You’ve got to stay grounded and keep working hard. If you work hard and you get the opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it, so I’m hoping that happens to me. I know I’m going to work hard to play, but we’ll see what happens.

Joe Fotu, DL
Laney College (Calif.), 6-3, 275

Our take: Popped up rather late on Illinois’ recruiting radar. But once Illinois showed an interest in the Samoan-American who grew up near San Francisco, the interest was reciprocated. Fotu, who committed Dec. 17, didn’t have overtly impressive numbers in his two seasons at Laney, compiling 54 tackles, including 10 1/2 for loss, and 4 1/2 sacks. Illinois likes the motor he has, which could help him see the field early at a unit that struggled in 2013.

Why Illinois? It’s different. Coming from California, I wanted to get away and get the college experience. That’s probably the main reason.

Favorite moment in football? Winning a bowl game two years in a row in junior college. That was great. I got to meet a lot of great young men that became my brothers during the season.

Favorite football player, college or pro? In the NFL, Haloti Ngata because he’s just an animal. He’s a beast. He uses his hands real good, and he’s just consistent. He’s a baller.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? The biggest one is probably Ohio State because there’s so much hype in the team. It’s the Ohio State University, so I’m really looking forward to playing them.

What’s your hidden talent? I can cut hair. It started about a year ago. My brothers were my practice dummy. I would mess them up sometimes, but they’d keep coming back. I got better and better at it. There’s still a lot to learn, and I learn from other barbers, but that’s it.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? It all depends how I come in during the season and if I come in healthy. They don’t recruit junior college players to sit on the bench, so I’m pretty sure that I’ll be playing.

Julian Hylton, DB
Lincoln-Way North, 6-1, 190

Our take: Don’t be surprised if Hylton, who committed July 9, winds up switching positions at some point in his Illinois career. The projected cornerback rushed for 2,531 yards and 32 touchdowns this past fall for the Phoenix, but given his size and stature, it looks like his first chance to play at Illinois will come in the defensive backfield. Is a bit raw on the defensive side given he has not played it much, but has speed to stick with any wideout.

Why Illinois? I chose Illinois because I like the coaching staff. It’s a great school, and I feel like the football team has a lot of upside.

Favorite moment in football? My first football game was when I was at Argo High School. I was in eighth grade and back deep for a kickoff. I dropped the ball at first, but then I picked the ball up and ran it back for a touchdown. It was like 90-something yards. It is kind of funny now that I think back about it, but after that moment, I thought I should stick with football.

Favorite football player, college or pro? I like Richard Sherman. People don’t like him too much because he trash talks, but I feel like he backs his game up real well. I also really like Adrian Peterson because of his work ethic and how he worked so hard to come back from his knee injury.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? There’s not one team I’m really looking forward to playing against. It’s kind of weird to think about that I’ll be playing those schools in a little bit. It really hasn’t set in too much, but I’m sure it’ll set in when I’m on the field.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you? I don’t think I have a hidden talent, but I listen to a lot of different genres of music. I like seeing live performances just to see how good the person is and if they actually sound like they do on a CD or in the studio.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I feel like to play in the Big Ten, there’s always room for improvement. Everyone has room to grow. I need to become a better football player all around and know that I’m constantly getting better in all areas.

Chris James, DB
Orange, Texas, 5-11, 185

Our take: James was a late pickup for Illinois. At the start of this week, James didn’t have an offer from the Illini. But Tim Beckman and Tim Banks liked enough of what they saw from the speedy athlete, who instantly committed after receiving an offer from Illinois on Tuesday. The only Texas product in the class chose Illinois ahead of Iowa State. Adds depth to an area where Illinois already has some young playmakers.

Why Illinois? I liked the facilities, the campus and the business area because that’s what I plan on majoring in. It was just the right fit for me.

Favorite moment in football? Just being out there with my friends and people I’ve grown up with all my life.

Favorite football player, college or pro? I like Richard Sherman because he’s a trash talker who loves to play ball.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? I haven’t watched too much Big Ten football, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a real physical conference. I’m looking forward to playing Penn State after seeing them on TV a few times.

What’s your hidden talent? I don’t think I have one.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I want to come in and play as a freshman, but I just need to keep working on my skills.

Paul James, DE
Miami, Fla., 6-3, 240

Our take: A name people a year ago were just starting to familiarize themselves with. And even saw take part in Illinois practices like James did last August. But grade issues surfaced, and the Floridian had to hit the books again before he could hit a college quarterback. He could surface possibly as a LEO, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position Illinois uses, but his ability to get to the quarterback is his most important trait.

Why Illinois? I’m really happy with my major. When I came on my visit, I felt the business program was best for me. I also feel like I’m a good addition to the team, so I just want to help out.

Favorite moment in football? My senior year in high school because the year before, I sat out the entire year, and everybody wanted to see what I could do after I had a big injury to my meniscus.

Favorite football player, college or pro? It’s a mixture between Bruce Irvin because of his speed at defensive end and Ray Lewis because of his leadership.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Ohio State because I feel like it’s one of the biggest games of the season. I just want to show the world what I’ve got.

What’s your hidden talent? I’m more of a people person. Most people think I’m quiet, but when you get to know me, I’m not that quiet.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I believe so, but it’s all on coach. I just want to do my job, go hard daily, and we’ll see when the time comes.

Henry McGrew, LB
Blue Valley (Kan.), 6-3, 237

Our take: Comes from the same area of the Kansas City suburbs as Nathan Scheelhaase. Even played a little quarterback in high school, albeit in goal-line situations. McGrew, who committed June 17, led Blue Valley to a Class 5A state title in November and was usually the leading tackler for the Wildcats in every game. Has size already. Will need to work on pass coverage, but has ability to stifle the run, as evident by his 159 tackles last year for the Tigers.

Why Illinois? I just felt like it was the right fit for me. I loved the coaches and loved the campus. When I visited, it just felt like it was where I needed to be. I love the conference, and it’s a great atmosphere to play big-time college football.

Favorite moment in football? Probably winning the Class 5A state championship this season. Just seeing all the hard work we put in during the season pay off and getting to the championship and winning it was something we worked towards for a long time. It was awesome just seeing the support from the fans and the community. Saying that we are state champs is a great feeling.

Favorite football player, college or pro? I’d probably have to go with Ray Lewis just becaues of his relentless on the field and his work ethic. I’ve always enjoyed watching him play, but just in the past few years I really started to notice him more.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? The Big Ten team I’m most looking forward to playing is Michigan State because they won the Big Ten and I always like playing against the best.

What’s your hidden talent? Not too sure that I have one, but I played basketball competitively before football. I played AAU, did all that and lettered on the varsity as a freshman at Blue Valley Northwester High School. I ended up transferring to Blue Valley my sophomore year and had to sit out a semester, so I just decided to focus on football.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? It’s kind of too early to tell right now. You can’t tell until you get up on campus and once you get in the flow of things, and start looking over the playbook, but I look forward to competing at one of the inside linebacker spots.

Tito Odenigbo, DE
Centerville (Ohio), 6-3, 241

Our take: First commit in the class orally committed to Illinois the evening of March 11, shortly before Nick Allegretti committed. Finished with 32 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks for an 8-3 Centerville team this past fall. The younger brother of current Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo could possibly play defensive end or defensive tackle at Illinois, but is still a bit raw when it comes to his skills.

Why Illinois? Illinois was my first Big tnen offer I got. I was born around Illinois. My dad went to Illinois. As long as I was going to get an offer from Illinois, I’d go there. I’m really, really excited about going to Illinois. I’ve been waiting since I was a kid to say I was going there, but it really hasn’t hit me yet that I’ll go to school there.

Favorite moment in football? Probably when my team went down to Florida this year and beat Naples High, one of the best teams in Florida. That trip cost a lot of money for our community and people were questioning our decision of flying down there and playing in the game. It was a great time and a great trip, and plus it was awesome to come back home with a win.

Favorite football player, college or pro? Probably Jay Cutler. People always question me about it, but I’ve been a Jay Cutler fan since he was with the Broncos. I think he’s a very talented quarterback who controls the team in a calm way. He seems like a humble leader and an overall good guy.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? I’d have to say three teams. No. 1 is Northwestern and playing against my brother. It’s going to be weird playing against him because we’re rivals now. No. 2 would be Ohio State because I have two former high school teammates in Michael Bennett and Evan Lisle who are on that team. We still keep in contact, and I’ve told them that if I can beat them at least one time that would be a dream come true. No. 3 would be Minnesota because one of my teammates this year, Jared Weyler, just committed there, and he’s a guard. I’m not sure if I’m playing defensive end or defensive tackle yet, but I still might have a chance to go up against him in the future.

What’s your hidden talent? My hidden talent is I can make myself cry on command. That’s gotten me out of a lot of sticky situations. I think I started doing it in first grade because our teacher was giving us nonstop homework it seemed like. I made myself cry, made her feel terrible and the homework seemed to subside. At least that’s how I remember it.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I’m aiming for it. Of course any player wants to play their first game, but I’m not one to argue with the coach’s decision. I trust Coach Colby and Coach Beckman. I’ll do whatever they need me to do, but I hope so.

Carroll Phillips, DE
Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) CC, 6-4, 245

Our take: An academic casualty at his first college, Cincinnati, Phillips went the junior college route last year. It paid off. The Miami native will now try at Illinois. He’ll most likely be slotted to play at LEO since his skill set seems he’s suited to bring pressure on the quarterback and drop back in coverage. Phillips, who committed Dec. 18, will have three seasons of eligibility to shore up any weaknesses the UI coaching staff spots.

Why Illinois? The reason why I’m coming to Illinois is because when I visited there the coaches treated me like family. That’s a big thing they’re selling is when you come here, you’re with family. I really felt a part of the Illini family, so I wanted to continue that and make a big impact when I get there.

Favorite moment in football? My favorite moment is when I played for Miami Central High School and we won a Class 6A state championship in 2010 during my senior year. They had never won a state title in 59 years prior to that season. It was a phenomenal experience to cap a great year.

Favorite football player, college or pro? My favorite football player of all-time is Sean Taylor. Even though he’s no longer with us, his legacy still goes on. He was a hard hitter and he had a nose for the ball. Everyone loved him, but guys on the field were scared of him at the same time. They knew Sean Taylor would be on them when they had the ball.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Just everybody in the Big Ten. I know Illinois is an underdog in the Big Ten. Nobody has faith in the Illini, so just to show everybody that Illinois can still be someone and make a dent in the Big Ten is what I’m hoping for.

What’s your hidden talent? I’m not all that great at basketball, but I can jump real high and could play good defense if I had to.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? Yes, sir. I will be playing. I’m going to go there and work my tail off in the offseason and summer time. Hopefully you guys will see me playing against Youngstown State and showing people that I can make an impact.

Austin Roberts, LB
Rice Lake (Wis.), 6-3, 226

Our take: Roberts was a tackling machine in the first three games of his senior season. Then a knee injury happened. Not just any knee injury, either. A torn left ACL derailed his senior season the Friday after Labor Day. Roberts, who committed June 13, had compiled 46 tackles in his first three games. The Philadelphia Eagles’ fan should be fully recovered by the time summer workouts start, but Illinois will most likely show caution with him early on.

Why Illinois? I really felt like everything happens for a reason and that God has a plan for us. I feel like He guided me to Illinois. I went in early June and I had an awesome camp. I performed really well there. That could have been a push from Him. When I went on my first visit a couple weeks later, I just felt it in my heart that this is where I’m meant to be at.

Favorite moment in football? Easily my favorite moment was after I committed. I hugged my dad and we just both just broke down. That moment was awesome. My dad does everything for me. He really, really helped me with the recruiting process because nobody comes up to Rice Lake really. He was like my agent the whole time.

Favorite football player, college or pro? Dick Butkus. He was my favorite before I actually committed to Illinois. I just love his style of play. He’s a big, tough linebacker who isn’t afraid to get after it.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Even when I lived in New Jersey, I’d always stay in tune with the Big Ten. If I had to pick Wisconsin, it’d probably be Wisconsin. Playing them and hopefully beating them would be a lot of fun. I’m just really sick and tired of seeing everyone at my school wear red in the hallways. I’m ready to kick their butts.

What’s your hidden talent? I can’t honestly say I have one, but if I had to pick, I can flip my eyelids inside out. And I can cook one-minute rice in 58 seconds. I won’t let you in on that secret, though.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I am going in this June with the mind-set that I’m going to be starting next fall. We’ll see how rehab goes and how my knee comes along. It’s wide open, but I’m coming in there wanting to take Jonathan Brown’s old spot.

Tyrin Stone-Davis, WR
Pierce College (Calif.), 6-3, 195

Our take: The first junior college commit of the group, he verbally committed on July 23 and stuck with Illinois the entire way. He did not play in 2013, using a redshirt season. That means both will have three seasons of eligibility. Has the physical presence Illinois coaches are looking for at a position group where many new names will catch passes from either Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey or Reilly O’Toole in 2014.

Why Illinois? I chose Illinois for many reasons. I loved their offense. Seeing what Wes Lunt did at Oklahoma State and knowing I could be one of his wideouts was big. Plus, I loved the history behind Illinois.

Favorite moment in football? My favorite moment I would say was when I was at Pierce. We won a bowl game and I scored the first touchdown on a bomb.

Favorite football player, college or pro? I have two. In the NFL, my favorite receiver is A.J. Green, and I love the way Sammy Watkins from Clemson plays the game. I really see myself in Green. We have the same body build. He can step away from the defender easily and has great ball skills, too.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? Definitely Ohio State. We play Ohio State at Ohio State this season. Me being in that staadium will be crazy. That will be a great time to put on a show.

What’s your hidden talent? My hidden talent is I love music. I like to sing a lot. I would say anyting by Drake is fine by me.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? Yes, sir because I’m going to give my all on the football field.

Malik Turner, WR
Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, 6-3, 205

Our take: Injuries didn’t have him highly-regarded heading into his senior season. So he didn’t have the biggest buzz. Not even when he chose Illinois on the evening of June 24, the same night the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. But he produced in 2013 for the Class 5A state champions, grabbing 69 passes for 1,377 yards and 23 touchdowns. That’s an average of almost 20 yards a catch, so Turner is a big-play threat.  

Why Illinois? I picked Illinois because of it being close to home. It will be easy for my mom, family and friends that have supported me to see me play. I have also grown very strong relationships with the coaches, and they are all down to earth.

Favorite moment in football? My favorite moment in my career was playing my senior year because in the past I had injuries that slowed me down. I enjoyed the entire season.

Favorite football player, college or pro? I don’t really have a favorite player that I look up to.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? I’m looking forward to playing every team in the Big Ten because they’re all great teams.

What’s your hidden talent? I don’t think I have one.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I hope I’ll play, but won’t know until practice starts.

Jihad Ward, DT
Globe Tech (N.Y.), 6-6, 285

Our take: Easily has the best offer list of any Illinois commit. For what that’s worth. He became the third JUCO player to pick Illinois in three days when he decided the night of Dec. 19. Ahead of offers from South Florida, Temple, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia. Mammoth presence could contend for early playing time and, after sending Twitter into a panic attack 10 days before signing day, stuck with Illinois ahead of West Virginia.

Tre Watson, LB
Tampa (Fla.) Catholic, 6-2, 230

Our take: The linebacker, who chose Illinois on Dec. 15 after a weekend visit, competed in the Blue-Grey All-American game in his native Tampa three weeks ago. The connection he made with the Illinois coaching staff is a big reason why he decided to leave his home state and head north. Along with the opportunity to play in the Big Ten. Most likely will find himself in a reserve role early on in his career, but has potential to develop into a steady playmaker.

Why Illinois? I feel real comfortable there. It really has everything that was I going for, from football to the academics. They just offered the total packagae. That was pretty much it for me.

Favorite moment in football? My favorite moment is either probably winning my first championship playing football when I was really little, or a couple weeks ago when I played in the Blue-Grey All-American game, and my team was down 34-7, but we came back and won. That was pretty incredible.

Favorite football player, college or pro? Right now it is Tyrann Mathieu from the Cardinals and just the intensity that he brings to the game. Everybody knows he’s had off-the-field issues, but he’s overcome those and proved a lot of people wrong. Unfortunatley he had that injury this season, but he’s certainly a fun player to watch.

Big Ten team you are most looking forward to playing? I was never a really Big Ten guy, growing up, but probably Ohio State. Everybody knows they’ve probably been the best Big Ten team over the course of the last couple years. I look forward to playing a lot of different teams in the Big Ten, like Michigan State, too. There are some pretty storied teams in the Big Ten, but Ohio State is at the top of your list.

What’s your hidden talent? I don’t know if I have a hidden talent. I would just say not very many people know how good I am at math. I’m pretty good in school, but anything related to math, you can come to me and I’ll hook you up.

Are you playing against Youngstown State? I definitely want to play. Obviously there’s a lot of time between now and then, but I definitely want to be in the game. That’s the goal is to get there in and prove what I can do and earn a spot.


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