CHAMPAIGN — He couldn’t brag about the team’s record in 2012. But what Tim Beckman could offer was the chance to play. And help rebuild.
The recruiting pitch worked on 10 early enrollees, who came to school in January. It worked on 15 more high school players, who signed Wednesday and will join the team during the summer.
“Even though we didn’t have as successful a football season as we wanted, they made the commitment that they can come here, be involved with the family and be involved in possibly playing in 2013,” Beckman said.
“I ask any player who comes in, do they want to watch or do they want to play? A lot of players who are 18 years old want to play. They want to be involved in college football.”
By noon, all 15 letters of intent were in the hands of the Illinois staff. It was a stress-free day for the coaches, who knew when the letters were scheduled to arrive. Early in the morning, the coaches already were working on the 2014 class, taking calls from prospective recruits. Most of the players were from Illinois, with a handful of calls coming from other parts of the country.
“I had over 30 calls,” Beckman said. “There are a lot of young men who know they are wanted.”
The 2013 class is considered fifth to eighth best in the Big Ten, according to the national recruiting services. It fell in the 40-46 range among all schools.
The 25-player class is heavy on defensive backs, receivers and offensive linemen, those positions taking 15 spots.
“The offensive line was an addition we needed to make,” Beckman said. “Each one of those young men have gained 10 pounds already since they’ve been here in three weeks. They’re on the process of getting themselves bigger, so they can be more suitable for competition come fall time.
“Because of the graduations, defensive back was a necessity.”
Illinois didn’t add any linebackers, which Beckman considers one of the deeper parts of the current roster. The team welcomes back Jonathan Brown, plus Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina, who started in 2012 as freshmen.
“We’ve got T.J. Neal, who did not play last year, who we feel is going to be a good football player,” Beckman said. “We happen to be full at that position right now.”
Beckman added five junior college players, the most at Illinois since Ron Turner signed seven in 1998. Unlike Turner’s group, all five are on campus this semester and are expected to contribute in their first season.
“It was need, no question about it,” Beckman said. “We’re a very young football team. We really don’t have a junior class. It was something that we felt for depth purposes, with the injury plague that we had a little bit last year, it was very important.
“We would have had a hard time practicing this spring if we did not have a couple junior college football players come and be a part of our team because of numbers.”
During Wednesday’s news conference, Beckman was questioned the most about incoming quarterback Aaron Bailey. The Bolingbrook standout was recruited by former co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty, who was let go after the season.
“I’ve been around this business my whole life, and Aaron Bailey is as good of a person as I’ve ever met,” Beckman said. “He’s a winner. I’ve really enjoyed recruiting Aaron Bailey, and I really enjoy being around Aaron Bailey.
“Chris did a great job with recruiting Aaron, and Chris is a fine football coach. We had to make a decision. All last season was not Chris Beatty’s fault by any means. It was all of our faults.”
Beckman hopes Bailey will help Illinois continue to draw players from the Chicago area.
“He sees a future here, and he sees that he can be involved in winning,” Beckman said.
Beckman said Bailey will fit in the offense planned by new coordinator Bill Cubit. The former Western Michigan coach is willing to adapt to the players he has available.
The Illini are hoping to get a bonus recruit: offensive lineman Corey Lewis. The Pennsylvania product missed the bulk of two seasons with knee injuries but was able to return in 2012. The school is awaiting word on a possible sixth season for Lewis.
Beckman said most of the 15 incoming freshmen are on pace to be academically eligible. He said a couple of the players will continue to take the ACT and SAT in an effort to meet the requirements. He did not name the players.