What once was seven junior college players became five on Wednesday.
Wide receiver Martize Barr, defensive tackle Abe Cajuste, offensive lineman Dallas Hinkhouse, linebacker Eric Finney (he'll play the STAR role) and safety Zane Petty all signed letters of intent on Wednesday to play football at Illinois.
Defensive end Kyle Kragen and defensive back David Guthrie also initially verbally committed to Illinois within the last three weeks, but Kragen is headed to California and Guthrie to New Mexico after reneging on their verbal to Illinois.
Still, five junior college players on the 2013 Illinois football roster is five more than what head coach Tim Beckman and his staff had for the 2012 season.
"The most exciting part is that they fill immediate needs for us," Beckman said in a press release. "They all play a different position of need and are spread across all areas of the team. The fact that we were able to go throughout the country and sell Illinois football to these young men and their families shows the work ethic and commitment from our staff."
Barr (6-0, 190) who comes to Illinois from Iowa Western Community College by way of New Mexico by way of Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C., Cajuste (6-3, 290), who comes to Illinois via Victor Valley (Calif.) College via Central Connecticut State via North Miami Beach (Fla.) High School, and Petty (6-1, 190), who comes to Illinois from American River (Calif.) College by way of Colorado State and Corning (Calif.) High School, will have two years of eligibility at Illinois.
Hinkhouse, a 6-5, 275-pound teammate of Barr's at Iowa Western this past season who helped the Reivers win the NJCAA national championship this month, could redshirt and still have two years of eligibility, while Finney (6-1, 205) will have three seasons of eligibility.
Finney sat out the 2012 season for College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., with an injury after making 19 tackles and one interception in the 2011 season at College of the Canyons after he played at Centennial (Calif.) High School.
"Eric is a big safety that can play the STAR position for us," Beckman said. "He is a big athlete who runs extremely well and will provide depth and competition on the defensive side of the ball, as well as on special teams. Getting Eric here for spring ball was a huge priority for us."
Hinkhouse, who will likely be used at an offensive tackle spot, helped Iowa Western's offense average almost 63 points per game and nearly 600 yards per game during the 2012 season. The Iowa native spent two seasons at Iowa Western after playing at West Des Moines Valley High School.
"Dallas comes from a great program in Iowa Western where he learned how to work and compete for the last two seasons," Beckman said. "He has played in two bowl games and won a national championship, making him exactly the kind of guy we want involved in our program."
Petty, who redshirted at Colorado State in the 2010 season before transferring to American River College, had 90 tackles and seven interceptions this past fall. In the 2011 season, Petty had 50 tackles and four interceptions.
"Zane brings a lot of playing experience to a young secondary," Beckman said. "He fills a critical need for us with the departure of several key seniors in the defensive backfield. We are excited to see Zane develop into a physical safety in our defense."
Cajuste had offers from, among others, Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Indiana, Kansas State, Purdue, Rutgers and Utah State, before choosing Illinois. He only played in six games in 2012, registering 14 tackles and made 17 tackles playing in eight games during the 2011 season for Victor Valley.
"Abe gives us a big body on the defensive line," Beckman said. "He will help add depth with the departure of several key seniors from the line. Abe's strength and his get-off were the things that we noticed when we originally watched the film. He plays to the echo of the whistle on every snap."
The only offensive skill player among the five, Barr had 31 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns during his lone season at Iowa Western this past fall.
He had eight catches for 79 yards during the 2011 season at New Mexico, and also started five games at safety, making 21 tackles. He'll most likely be used as a slot receiver at Illinois.
"Martize brings a lot of game experience to our group of wide receivers," Beckman said. "He has played on both sides of the ball at the Division I level and spent this past season in a very explosive offense at Iowa Western."
Wednesday was the first day junior college players could sign letters of intent along with high school seniors who plan to enroll early and be on campus for the second semester.
Among the high school commits Illinois has in its Class of 2013 — up to 26 total players with recent verbals by high school senior wide receivers Marchie Murdock (6-1, 175 from from Mansfield, Texas) and Dionte Taylor (6-0, 165 from University High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) — expected to enroll early include Charleston (Ill.) High School defensive back Dillan Cazley, O'Fallon (Ill.) High School defensive back Darius Mosely, Clarkston (Mich.) High School offensive lineman Jesse Chadwell, Olentangy (Ohio) High School offensive lineman Austin Schmidt and Green (Ohio) High School tight end Christian DiLauro, who is expected to play on the offensive line at Illinois.