SPRINGFIELD — It has been a while since a Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin alum played a significant role at Illinois.
Ken Leonard, longtime successful coach of the Cyclones, thinks that's about to change.
Former News-Gazette All-Stater Ryan Klachko proved Leonard right, joining the Illini officially today. Earlier in the summer, he left Nebraska after one season.He will have to sit out 2012 and will have three years remaining at Illinois. He will be on scholarship.
Leonard contacted Tim Beckman about Klachko's interest in the school. Klachko visited Camp Rantoul to watch practice.
"There were a lot of offensive linemen at Nebraska," Leonard said. "He felt that his shot to play sooner was going to be better (at Illinois).
"I encouraged him to go there."
Klachko had an Illinois offer as a high school senior, one of more than a dozen college options. Others on the list included Arizona, Boston College, Missouri and Purdue.
"I think it was just the luster of Nebraska," Leonard said.
The last Illinois letterwinner from the school was defensive lineman Josh Norris in 2006. Before that, kicker Peter Christofilakos lettered in 2002. Both Norris and Christofilakos were originally walk-ons.
The last SH-G player to sign a scholarship with Illinois was defensive lineman Mike McGee in the late 1990s.
There were other talented players from the school that Illinois missed on during the past decade.
"With Eric Peterman going to Northwestern, if Illinois would have came after him, he would have probably went," Leonard said.
Leonard thinks there could be a steady stream of SH-G players joining the Illini in the future. Leonard likes the Illinois staff.
"They showed me something in going to every high school in the state," Leonard said. "They've got a chance to be successful just because of their attitude."
Co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales is responsible for recruiting the Springfield area. Leonard has spent time with Gonzales and co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty.
"I think the world of both those guys," Leonard said. "I think they're going to be very good."