Tim Beckman is making a serious run in the junior college market. But it doesn’t compare to the entourage that followed Mike White from California in the early ’80s.
As of today, the Illini football coach has five juco players scheduled for January enrollment. He intended to formally announce them Wednesday but it’s still a volatile time with (1) academic clearances being finalized and (2) other universities trying to turn Illini commits.
As example, Diablo Valley defensive end Kyle Kragen, who had given Beckman his word, flipped to California on Monday when the Bears made a late offer. Another juco, DB David Guthrie, did the same thing earlier.
As it stands, with work undone, the UI will presumably welcome defensive tackle Abens Cajuste (6-foot-3, 290 pounds), receiver Martize Barr (6-0, 190), defensive backs Eric Finney (6-1, 205) and Zane Petty (6-1, 190) and offensive lineman Dallas Hinkhouse (6-5, 275) at the semester turn. Barr, who originally played at New Mexico, and Hinkhouse were teammates on Iowa Western’s NJCAA national champions, the others hailing from California.
In addition, five high school commits have completed schoolwork in order to enroll next month. These 10 enrollees are critical for a spring session that finds Illinois short on the defensive line (junior Akeem Spence is turning pro) and presently unable to field a two-deep unit in the defensive backfield.
Beckman is leaving no stone unturned in efforts to bolster the secondary. Since Charleston’s 5-10 Dillan Cazley became Beckman’s first commitment last February, he has successfully recruited seven more defensive backs. This includes Caleb Day, a two-way standout for Hilliard Darby (Ohio) and one of two four-star prospects on the 26-player UI list. But there’s a catch. Other Big Ten schools are trying to cut in on Beckman’s dance. As a result, last weekend’s visits were as much about retaining previous commitments as in landing new ones.
— Joshua Jones starred for Walled Lake Western and is regarded one of Michigan’s premier prospects. He scored 24 TDs and had 95 tackles. He has reportedly agreed to make a mid-January trip to Michigan State where most of the Spartans’ picks will attend. It isn’t clear whether a scholarship is available.
— Michigan is on the trail of Reon Dawson, a talented cornerback out of Trotwood Madison (Ohio) who committed to Illinois in May with 275-pound teammate Jarrod Clements. Michigan is battling USC, Notre Dame and Florida for the premier recruiting class and already has five DBs on the way, four of whom are listed by Rivals.com at the four-star level.
— Simeon linebacker Reggie Spearman, whose brother Brandon Spearman scored 20 points in Hawaii’s overtime loss to Illinois, is considered a soft verbal because he has not restricted his visits to Illinois.
So it is a period of enormous flux. Detroit Cass defensive lineman Kenton Gibbs committed to Illinois, decommitted and is now showing interest again. There could be many changes before the February signing period. As it stands, Illinois has eight defensive backs on the way, and six defensive linemen in a 26-player list that could reach 29.
Transfer students have recently played a bigger role in Illini football than many realize.
The number is in the high teens, dating back to the 2007 team that featured Oklahoma transfer Akim Millington and junior college acquisitions Justin Sanders, Jacob Willis and Antonio Steele.
Pinpointing the more prominent transfers participating since 2007, the UI has drawn players from NIU (Tommy Davis), Utah (Anthony Santella) and Florida (Jarred Fayson). College of the Sequoias sent Aaron Gress and Daniel Dufrene. Military and prep schools provided Craig Wilson, Dere Hicks, Randall Hunt, Mark Jackson, Rahkeem Smith and Donsay Hardemon. Bo Flowers arrived after four years of pro baseball. Trulon Henry came from College of DuPage.
The 2013 group will be the biggest crop of junior college transfers since White kicked off an avalanche of California JCs with quarterbacks Dave Wilson and Tony Eason in 1980.
When White’s 1983 club went 9-0 in Big Ten play, most of the major producers were Californians (QB Jack Trudeau from Granada High in Livermore) or Juco transfers. Tim Brewster and David Williams had 59 receptions apiece. Dwight Beverly was the starting tailback. The heart of the defense featured JCs Mike Weingrad, Darryl Thompson, Mike Johnson, Archie Carter, Vince Osby, Clint Haynes, Moe Bias, Curtis Clarke and John Ayres. There were complaints both here and elsewhere that White might be overdoing it but, face it, the Illini would have been mediocre without them. Those nine combined for 320 tackles and provided a strong physical presence.
A year later, with the additions of standouts like Guy Teafatiller, Alec Gibson and Stephen Pierce, White had more than two dozen transfers, mostly from California, and mostly front-liners.
Editor’s note: A member of the Rose Bowl team was a transfer they didn’t need: Floridian Harry Gosier. A former Michigan player, Gosier dropped off the team and was later charged with murdering two of his wife’s relatives in Champaign. He received the death penalty before it was eliminated in Illinois.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.