Illini get early start

Illini get early start

CHAMPAIGN — The luster and pizazz of national signing day the first Wednesday in February will still exist for Illinois.

But Tim Beckman and his staff took care of more than half of their recruiting class Wednesday.

Illinois has 17 players so far in the class, and nine signed to enroll early. This allows them to start taking classes for the upcoming semester at Illinois and take part in spring practices, which are set to get underway the first week in March.

One familiar name is among the nine players: Paul James.

The defensive end from Miami (Fla.) signed with Illinois last February after committing in late January. The highly-touted prospect even went through summer workouts and preseason practices in August with Illinois before academic issues surfaced. He’ll still have four seasons of eligibility.

“He had to go back and finish off a class that he had to make sure he got,” Beckman said. “He did that on his own. It speaks very highly of Paul James, and then of course it speaks very highly about what he thinks of this program. He could have opened up (his recruiting) to anywhere and visited anywhere. We’re excited about bringing him back.”

The Class of 2014 won’t reach the 25 players Illinois signed in last year’s class. The scholarship numbers aren’t there. Beckman said Illinois should have 17 scholarships available, but, according to Big Ten rules, can oversign by three players. Beckman said Wednesday that reserve quarterback Chase Haslett is transferring, which frees up another scholarship, and added that defensive tackle Bryce Douglas has a neck issue that might not allow him to play. He would receive a medical scholarship, which would not count against the available scholarships Illinois has.

“It’s not finalized yet, but right now it’s kind of leaning (that way),” Beckman said. “He’d be involved more in the coaching aspect than playing.”

One quarterback was among Wednesday’s nine signees. Chayce Crouch from Newark (Ohio) Catholic was one of five high school enrollees who graduated early in order to get a head start on their college careers. Beckman said he’d like a quarterback to enroll early in every class.

“I travel all over the country trying to find guys, and I’m not into stars or all that stuff,” Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “I look for the intangibles. Are you going to be a hard worker? Can you be a great guy in the quarterback room? I don’t want a guy that’s selfish. He’s a big, tall, athletic kid. His high school team lost a couple defensive guys in the playoffs and he ended up playing free safety there for a while. He’s tough. Just my type of guy.”

Illinois won’t have the highest ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten according to the recruiting services. Probably won’t even factor into the top half. No four-star or five-star recruits are in the fold.

“It’s all about fit,” Beckman said. “Everything has to do with fit. If you look at some of the top offenses in this country and top defenses, two names come up. You hear about a Michigan State defense and a Baylor offense. Well, I’ll leave this up to (the media), but see how many starters that they had that are four-star and five-star football players out of high school? I think you’ll be shocked. We feel that the nine young men that are coming in ... are great fits.”

Spring in their step

Beat writer MATT DANIELS breaks down Illinois’ nine early enrollees:

Geronimo Allison, WR
6-3, 185
Iowa Western CC
Caught 69 passes for 872 yards in leading Reivers to an 11-1 record this fall

Chayce Crouch, QB
6-4, 220
Newark (Ohio) Catholic High
Threw for 1,996 yards, 16 TDs and rushed for 527 yards, 13 TDs his senior year on an 11-2 team

Peter Cvijanovic, OL
6-6, 280
East Coast Prep (Mass.)
Younger brother of Illinois left tackle Simon ranked No. 9 prep player in the nation by 247Sports

Mike Dudek, WR
5-11, 180
Neuqua Valley High School
First-team N-G All-Stater holds school’s career records for receptions, receiving yards and TDs

Joe Fotu, DL
6-3, 275
Laney CC (Calif.)
UI honed in on California native — No. 11 juco defensive end by 247Sports — in the last month

Jordan Frazier, TE
6-5, 240
Lighthouse Christian Acad. (Mo.)
Multi-sport athlete in high school led team in receptions and tackles all four seasons

Paul James, DE
6-3, 240
Miami (Fla.) Norland High
2013 signee who practiced at Camp Rantoul had academic issues but stuck with Illinois

Tyree Stone-Davis, DB
6-3, 190
Pierce College (Calif.)
Philadelphia native redshirted this fall, just like his twin brother, and retains three years of eligibility

Tyrin Stone-Davis, WR
6-3, 195
Pierce College (Calif.)
Has a beard, which is easiest way to tell 247Sports four-star recruit and his twin brother apart