CHAMPAIGN — The snow didn’t bother Tre Watson.
Although the Tampa (Fla.) Catholic linebacker had never seen the wintry accumulation before it blanketed Champaign-Urbana this weekend.
“It was kind of cool,” Watson said with a laugh. “It wasn’t going to deter my choice at all.”
Watson will have to get used to the cold weather in Illinois after he orally committed to Tim Beckman’s Illini on Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve always gotten good vibes from the coaches and they’ve been genuine with everything they’ve told me,” Watson said after he completed an official visit to Illinois this weekend. “Getting here, they were already leading as far as my board, and this weekend just really solidified it. Getting to spend time with the players and seeing that they liked the coaching staff, that really just wrapped it up for me.”
Watson is the 15th commit in the Class of 2014 for Beckman and third linebacker.
He joins Austin Roberts from Rice Lake (Wis.) and Henry McGrew from Stillwell (Kan.) in that position group, and is the first Florida recruit in the class.
“For the most part, it’s going to definitely take some adjusting to being far away from home, but there’s some other guys from my area,” Watson said. “(Illinois free safety) Jevaris Little grew up about 20 minutes from where I live, and he told me about how it is. I’m sure it’ll be a transition, but one I’m looking forward to.”
Watson, at 6-feet-2 and 230 pounds, projects as an inside linebacker at Illinois.
The addition of Watson — who chose Illinois ahead of offers from Air Force, Central Florida, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee, South Florida and Virginia — offsets the loss of another Illinois recruiting target at linebacker.
Montini linebacker Niles Sykes, who had Illinois in his top six schools, committed to Notre Dame on Sunday.
Watson — who said he plans to sign on Feb. 5 and enroll at Illinois this summer — helped Tampa Catholic to a 10-3 record this fall and a spot in the Class 3A state semifinals.
Florida has eight classes, just like Illinois, and 3A is the third-smallest class in the state.
“The majority of my high school career I was all over the place at linebacker based on the needs of my team,” Watson said. “But it looks like there could definitely be an opportunity to make some things happen at an inside linebacker spot. I try to be as aggressive as a player that I can be. I’m definitely not going to be a passive linebacker. I don’t know how that works.”
Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks and inside linebackers coach Mike Ward were the primary recruiters on Watson.
And, outside of playing in the Big Ten, were the primary reasons why he committed to Illinois.
“The Big Ten name, something comes with that,” said Watson, who plans to major in community health. “There’s a certain respect level of integrity that comes with the Big Ten. That was just a bonus. The coaches were straight up with me the whole time. They weren’t going to feed me lies or make me not like somewhere else. That was pretty important.”