Updated: Illini land defensive back
CHICAGO — Illinois offered a scholarship to Pat Nelson on Tuesday.
The Chicago Hales Franciscan defensive back didn’t wait long to let Illinois coach Tim Beckman and his staff know his intentions.
Nelson orally committed to Illinois on Wednesday, becoming the first defensive recruit for Beckman in the Class of 2015.
“It’s my hometown team, it’s in the Big Ten, and I felt that I’d fit perfect into their defense,” Nelson said. “I felt the coaching staff really wanted me, too.”
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks and wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy were the lead recruiters on Nelson, a three-star recruit who held offers from Central Michigan, Indiana, Nevada, Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan.
Nelson is a lifelong Chicago resident, living on the South Side, and liked his time in Champaign-Urbana. He first visited this winter during a junior day event that Illinois hosted and was in town again Tuesday.
“It’s a nice, big, beautiful campus,” Nelson said. “The people around seem really friendly. It’s real big for me, especially from where I live in Chicago. It’s kind of rough.”
Hales Franciscan finished 4-5 last season and plays in the Chicago Catholic Red Conference. If the Spartans had qualified for the playoffs last season, they would have likely played in Class 2A.
“It just shows that if you work hard no matter where you are, especially with me being at a little school, it can get you anywhere,” Nelson said. “Now I get a chance to recruit other defensive players to Illinois.”
Nelson is the eighth commit for Illinois in the Class of 2015 and fourth in-state player, joining Centennial quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald, DeKalb running back Dre Brown and Jacksonville offensive lineman Gabe Megginson.
He has played a hybrid safety/linebacker the last two seasons at Hales Franciscan in a position similar to what Illinois uses at its STAR spot. He said he is expected to play free safety this fall for the Spartans.
“Right now, the Illinois coaches have said I’d be back at safety unless I gain a lot of weight,” Nelson said. “This decision is going to help a lot because I can just focus on football and bettering my team for my senior season now.”
Wideouts depart. Peter Bonahoom and Kevin Carroll, two Illinois wide receivers who had solid showings in the spring game, are no longer with the team, Beckman said Wednesday. Both are still students at Illinois.
Bonahoom, who was with Illinois for three seasons but never had a reception during the regular season, had seven catches for 95 yards during the spring game. Carroll, a St. Thomas More product who walked onto the team prior to last season, caught a touchdown from Reilly O’Toole in the spring game.
“I enjoyed coaching Pete, and he’s a good kid,” Beckman said. “He decided to focus on academics. Same thing with Kevin.”
Line change. Jihad Ward has the size (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) the Illinois coaches want out of a defensive lineman.
He now has a position.
The junior college transfer from Globe Tech in New York will initially line up at defensive end for the Illini and not at defensive tackle. He figures to contend with Kenny Nelson for the starting spot.
“We’re going to put him on the perimeter and let him see what he can do out there,” Beckman said.
Another junior college transfer, Joe Fotu, will work with the defensive tackles once practices start, Beckman said. The California native saw time at tackle and end during spring ball.