Illinois scored its first major recruiting coup of the Tim Beckman era.
Bolingbrook High School junior quarterback Aaron Bailey gave the coaching staff an oral commitment Thursday night, choosing Illinois over offers from the likes of Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Considered one of the nation's premier dual-threat quarterbacks, Bailey had been the program's top priority in the 2013 class since the new staff took over in December.
Bailey said he made the decision Monday after praying and talking with his family, but with standardized tests to take Tuesday and Wednesday at school, he held off a few days before letting the staff know. He cited Illinois as the "best fit," with a great relationship with the coaching staff and an in-state pull being two major factors in his decision.
"This is very exciting. With Coach Beckman, what he's done in the past is help pick up programs, and that's what I want to do," Bailey said. "Illinois, it's a place to rebuild. Why not in your own backyard? That's a reason we were looking at (Illinois), and because of how much faith (the staff) put in us and how much they trust in us. I trust in Coach Beckman, and we're going to do what we have to do to win."
The Illini view Bailey as more than just their quarterback of the future. They believe he can be the face of the program and help attract fellow recruits to a school that's looking to take the next step and that had not — until Thursday — generated much buzz on the recruiting trail.
"It's a major catch," said national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who rates Bailey as the nation's 10th-best quarterback in 2013. "To me, he's an All-American. I've invited him to play in the Semper Fi game. He's one of Illinois' biggest catches in a long time.
"He's the real deal. Illinois has been struggling. Everybody wants him. It signifies there's a turnaround in Illinois recruiting. Getting a guy like Aaron Bailey will lead to other big-time kids."
Rivals.com ranks Bailey as the fourth-best dual-threat quarterback in the country, and he earned high praise from the experts. Lemming called the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Bailey "polished" and "better than (former Illini) Juice Williams as an all-around quarterback."
That notoriety, combined with Bailey's down-to-earth personality and past success in leading the Raiders to a Class 8A state title last fall, should help him in recruiting other prep players to Illinois, which he said he'll do.
One place Illinois will focus on is wide receiver. The Illini now have five players orally committed in 2013 — two offensive linemen, a cornerback, a running back and a signal-caller they view as the cornerstone of the future.
"I'm prepared for that," Bailey said of the attention. "I'm just going to stay humble and trust in God. I'm going to go out there and enjoy playing the game like I am now, having fun. I'm just looking forward to being an Illini."