Matt Daniels: Hot reads from Saturday's practice
1. Brown delivers. Dre Brown had planned to give Illinois an oral commitment this weekend.
But the Class of 2015 running back from DeKalb looked at the date Friday and couldn’t resist.
“I decided to commit Friday because my number is 33, and my deceased father’s number in high school and college was 77,” Brown said, “so (combining those numbers and committing) on 3/7 was perfect.”
Illinois was the first high-major offer for Brown, who is a versatile threat out of the backfield running the ball or catching passes. He compares his skill set to the one Matt Forte brings to the Chicago Bears.
“I feel like I fit perfect into Illinois’ offense,” he said. “They know how to use my athleticism. The biggest factors, to me, were the opportunity to play early, the education and playing for my home state in front of my family.”
Brown helped guide DeKalb to a 5-5 record last fall and a playoff appearance for the first time since 2010. Now he can focus on getting the Barbs back into the postseason in 2014 without having to worry about his college choice.
“It’s such a relief,” he said. “I can focus on bettering myself and getting ready for school and the next level. Illini Nation has showed me much love, and all my friends and family are ecstatic.”
2. Recruits galore. Brown wasn’t the only recruit or notable name inside the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility. Far from it.
About 85 recruits were in attendance, stretching from one end zone to the next at times on the 80-yard field.
Jimmy Fitzgerald, the Centennial quarterback who was the first commit for Illinois in the Class of 2015, was on the sidelines, along with other key recruiting targets in the Class of 2015 like Downers Grove North tight end David Edwards, Maroa-Forsyth athlete Jack Hockaday, Kettering (Ohio) Archbishop Alter defensive tackle Kraig Howe, offensive lineman Evan Mallory from Brownsburg (Ind.) and offensive lineman Dalton Ford from Webb City (Mo.), among others.
“It’s really, really cool to have this,” Illinois recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh said. “You’re always selling, selling, selling, but, for them, they actually get to see it. We had some guys stay overnight, and then we tried to coordinate it with meetings and then practice.”
Former NFL quarterback Trent Green was at the facility, too, on Saturday. Green’s son, T.J., is a Class of 2015 quarterback from Kansas City Rockhurst — the same high school Nathan Scheelhaase attended — whom Illinois is interested in.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas stopped by practice, as did Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, along with former Illinois defensive back Justin Harrison, who is coaching at Lindenwood University-Belleville near St. Louis.
3. Firsthand view. All the visitors were able to get up close when Illinois went through some of its drills Saturday. Like the gauntlet, a drill that matches offensive linemen blocking defensive linemen, along with wide receivers and tight ends matching up against linebackers and defensive backs in close quarters, with a running back trying to maneuver through all the traffic.
“In those drills, you’ve just got to go as hard as you can and as long as you can,” Illinois defensive line coach Greg Colby said. “It’s just all effort and all attitude. There’s a little bit of technique, but not much. It gets the team pumped up and gets the physical attitude going. That’s fun to have them out there to see the life that the team has.”
The drills prompted many recruits to pull out their smartphones and videotape the festive battles, which drew plenty of hollering from the offensive and defensive units for the Illini.
“That is choreographed pretty good,” Golesh said. “We’re just trying to create an excitement level.”
And they were able to see Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O’Toole stretch the field periodically with deep passes. Lunt and Geronimo Allison connected on a few deep balls, with Justin Hardee finding himself on the receiving end as well.
“Offense had a rough day (Friday), and we came back out (Saturday) and executed pretty well, I thought,” Lunt said. “There’s going to be fans when you play on Saturday, so it’s really no distraction (with all the recruits), but it’s good that we had a big turnout.”