Josh Ferguson: No. 1
We asked beat writer MATT DANIELS for his list of most important Illinois prep players Tim Beckman's Illini have for 2013
1. Josh Ferguson
Running back and Naperville native who starred at Joliet Catholic has had injuries derail parts of his first two seasons and missed spring ball because of ankle problems. Has potential to become a game-changer under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, but has to stay healthy.
2. Reilly O’Toole
The backup quarterback is always popular among fans. But the former Wheaton Warrenville South standout and 2010 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year struggled at times (Arizona State) last year and flourished in other games (Charleston Southern). If Nathan Scheelhaase goes down, the junior is the first option Tim Beckman will go with this fall. We’ll see how popular he is among the fan base if that happens.
3. Miles Osei
Now fully slotted in at wide receiver, the former dual threat quarterback from Mt. Prospect will need a big 2013. Wide receiver is one of the thinnest positions on the team. Osei doesn’t have the size (6 feet, 200 pounds) to go up and over defensive backs, but could become dangerous in the open field.
4. Jake Howe
The defensive tackle from McHenry missed most of last season with a broken arm after serving as Akeem Spence’s backup. Spence is in the NFL now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Howe will most likely come into the 2013 season as a starter and showed progress through the spring. He didn’t record any statistics last year before his injury, so he could come into the fall not on many people’s radars.
5. Michael Heitz
Brings back plenty of starting experience (21 games) from the past two years. He and Simon Cvijanovic should form the left side of the offensive line, with Heitz at guard. Heitz, a junior, didn’t play big-school high school football (his high school, VIT in Table Grove, co-ops with Astoria High School to form South Fulton), but he is on pace to crack the 40-plus starts barrier during his time at Illinois.
6. Austin Teitsma
Illinois will need the former Glenbard South product to increase his production on the defensive line. Teitsma will most likely fill in next to Howe at a defensive tackle position. In spot duty last season, Teitsma made 15 tackles and 1/2 of a sack. He came through with two sacks in the spring game, and breaking through the offensive line would be a welcome sight against Big Ten foes.
7. Darius Mosely
The O’Fallon native just went to his senior prom. One of the early enrollees with the Class of 2013, Mosely might have to contend with locking down wide receivers like Allen Robinson of Penn State and Shane Wynn of Indiana, the league’s two top pass catchers returning, this fall because of a young secondary crew.
8. Taylor Zalewski
The Orland Park native who was recently awarded a scholarship showed off his abilities with a 54-yard field goal against Purdue and 47-yard field goal against Charleston Southern last season. He also missed a 26-yarder against Penn State. The sophomore who handled the kick-off duties last year will again have the leg up on the kickers going into the fall, but will have to fend off Ryan Frain.
9. Ben Mathis
The walk-on from Springfield could provide leadership and depth to the secondary next season. He does not have any recorded statistics going into his senior year with the Illini, but could vie for playing time because of depth concerns in the defensive backfield.
10. Michael Martin
The Champaign native and Centennial product has the build (6-4, 210) you’d like to see out of a long snapper. So does his main competition for the starting job, Zack Hirth (6-4, 200). If former Charger can separate himself in August workouts, there could be a plethora of family and friends who sport No. 56 jerseys in the Memorial Stadium stands against Southern Illinois-Carbondale on Aug. 31.