MIAMI — Teko Powell wants to play at Illinois. Even if it means signing with a different coach (Tim Beckman) than the one who originally recruited him (Ron Zook). Even if it means taking extra visits to confirm his choice.
Just before an official visit to West Virginia during the weekend, the Miami Norland defensive tackle reiterated that he is on his way to Champaign-Urbana. Norland plans a ceremony Wednesday morning for 10 football signees.
"It just feels like home," Powell said. "I fit in good up there."
After playing an important role for Florida's Class 5A state champions, Powell had options. Washington State flew him out in mid-January. Florida, Florida State and Wisconsin made offers.
But Powell liked what he heard from Illinois defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, the lone holdover from Zook's staff. Since taking over at Illinois in 2009, Gilmore has been sending linemen to the NFL. Josh Brent and Corey Liuget are already there. Whitney Mercilus is on the way in 2012.
"I really grew a connection with Coach Gilmore," Powell said. "He's been there from the start."
After Zook was fired and before Beckman was hired, Gilmore talked to Powell. Gilmore's interest impressed Powell, even though the coach wasn't sure he was going to stay in C-U.
"He stayed on top of it," Powell said.
Powell has gotten to know Liuget, who spoke to the Vikings during the season. Powell said Liuget didn't know about his college choice until after it was made. But Liuget supports the decision.
"Corey is going to mentor him," Norland coach Daryle Heidelburg said.
Powell plans to study electrical engineering. He understands the program is among the best in the nation.
Being far from home won't be a problem, Powell said.
"I'm not afraid to go to a new environment," Powell said.
It helps that he'll be surrounded by Floridians. There will be 11 on the Illinois spring roster.
And Powell wants to add to the list. He has started recruiting two juniors at Norland for Illinois: linebacker Treyvon Williams and defensive back William Townsend.
"I've already got their highlight tapes in the Illinois coaches' hands," Powell said.
"I will try to start a pipeline from Miami to Champaign," Heidelburg said.
Norland went 15-0 in 2011, winning the state title game 38-0. Powell got used to winning with the Vikings.
"I want to bring what we had at Norland on over and try to help the program the best I can," Powell said. "Keep it rolling."
"He's not used to losing, and he doesn't like to lose," Heidelburg said. "He's going to bring the passion and the work ethic we have here. Being on a successful high school team prompts you to push harder."
Powell wants to play in 2012. While starters Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster return inside, the team lost backups Craig Wilson and Wisdom Onyegbule.
"Illinois needs big men," Powell said.
Powell won't wait long to begin his Illinois career. Graduation is June 7, and he plans to be on campus by June 11.
"I'm going to get to work," Powell said.
Heidelburg thinks Powell can excel up North.
"He can be a tremendous player in the Big Ten," Heidelburg said. "He's already Big Ten size (6-foot-2, 285 pounds). He's very fast to be that big."
Is Teko Powell the best player in the 2012 Illinois class? We’ll have to wait a few seasons to find out. Here are the best players from the last 10 years of Illini recruiting:
2011: Donovonn Young (RB) — On his way up school career rushing list with 451 yards, six TDs
2010: Jonathan Brown (LB) — Leading tackler in 2011 earned All-Big Ten second-team honors
2009: Nathan Scheelhaase (QB) — Already stands sixth on school’s career total offense list. And he’s 2-0 in bowls
2008: Mikel Leshoure (RB) — Tough call in a class that included Corey Liuget, A.J. Jenkins and Whitney Mercilus
2007: Arrelious Benn (WR) — First two years (121 catches) overwhelm disappointing, injury-filled final season (38 catches)
2006: Juice Williams (QB) — School’s career total offense leader led team to win against No. 1 Ohio State in 2007
2005: Rashard Mendenhall (RB) — Steelers first-round draft pick scored 19 touchdowns in his final Illini season
2004: Jason Reda (K) — School’s career scoring leader hit 31 of 37 field goal tries his final two seasons
2003: J Leman (LB) — School’s No. 6 career tackler edges Martin O’Donnell, Pierre Thomas and Kelvin Hayden
2002: Matt Maddox (OL) — New Jersey product ranks among all-time leaders with 45 career starts