SPRINGFIELD — Malik Turner hasn’t played much high school football.
At least according to Ken Leonard, his high school coach at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
“He’s a special athlete and a big-time player,” the 29-year coaching veteran said of Turner, Illinois’ newest commit. “He’s a Big Ten caliber wide receiver, even if nobody really knows much about him.”
Turner informed Tim Beckman and the Illinois coaching staff of his decision to head east along Interstate 72 and become the seventh commit in the Class of 2014 on Monday night.
He picked Illinois ahead of offers from Ball State and Northern Illinois.
Two broken ankles, one sustained during Week 4 of his sophomore season that forced him to miss the rest of the year and another last summer before his junior that caused him to miss the regular season, have limited Turner to only a handful of high school games.
His statistics — Turner concedes he’s not sure of them because he’s only had a small sample size — won’t overwhelm.
But Leonard said when Turner took part in a one-day showcase camp at Illinois last summer, fully healthy, he completed the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.
And he has grown since the start of last football season, checking in at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds.
“He’s going to be a big, strong wide receiver,” Leonard said. “Illinois knew what he could do last summer and what he was about.”
Illinois offered Turner last winter.
The two-sport standout — he also excels on the basketball court — was grateful.
“They were my first offer, and they had a special place in my heart from the start,” Turner said. “They saw something that no one else saw. As the time went on, just being close to home was important, too. My family has watched me grow up.”
Turner said he had plans to visit Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin this summer but doesn’t plan to follow through on those trips now.
Former Illinois co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales, now the wide receivers coach at Mississippi State, started recruiting Turner before defensive line coach Greg Colby and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh closed the deal.
Having Wes Lunt transfer to Illinois helped sway Turner, too.
The former Rochester quarterback played in the same conference, the Central State Eight, that the Cyclones are in.
And Leonard’s son, Derek, is Rochester’s head coach.
“It played a role in it,” Turner said. “A big role. He’s just a good quarterback. He knows what to do to make the big plays. I watched him when he was in high school. He’s great with getting the ball out to his wide receivers.”
This is the second straight year Illinois has picked up a player from the vaunted Springfield SHG program, which has won three state titles in the last decade.
Offensive lineman Ryan Klachko transferred to Illinois last August from Nebraska but never played a game because of past concussions.
Klachko no longer plays football, but Leonard said Beckman has helped Klachko, who is still enrolled at Illinois, stay connected to the current Illini team.
Sending another player on his way to Champaign-Urbana is more than OK with Leonard.
“We’d love to keep it going,” Leonard said. “We’ve got some folks coming up, too, that are going to be pretty good. Coach Beckman and his staff have really put an emphasis on staying involved with downstate schools. With Wes coming over there now, I’m excited.”