Get to know Illini football's Class of 2017

Get to know Illini football's Class of 2017

The Class of 2017 is here for Lovie Smith’s program. Beat writer Bob Asmussen takes a closer look at each athlete:

Tony Adams, DB
St. Louis University, 6-0, 185

Other interest: Missouri, Purdue, Wyoming.

Why Illinois? “It came down to relationships. It came down to the people you’re around. Being coached by Lovie Smith, it doesn’t get any better than that. And it’s home. It’s not too far away. My family can come see me any time they want to.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Dana Howard. I hear about Dana a lot being from this area.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “That’s the plan, for sure, work my way up the ladder and fight for that spot.”


Dawson DeGroot, DB
Fort Myers (Fla.), 6-2, 190

Other interest: Boston College, Connecticut, Florida International.

Stats that matter: 96 tackles, three fumble recoveries as a senior.

247sports ranking: Three stars.

Team success: Fort Myers went 8-5, reached region final in most recent season.


Nate Hobbs, DB
Louisville (Ky.) Male, 6-0, 170

Other interest: Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky.

Why Illinois? “Because I think they are building something special there with our class and Lovie Smith. Plus, it’s the Big Ten.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Justin Green.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “Yes, I am.”


James Knight, DB
East St. Louis, 5-11, 210

Other interest: Missouri, Western Michigan.

Why Illinois? “It was the best fit for me. It’s close to home. I like the coaching staff. And I’ve got teammates on the team (Stanley Green).”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Terry Hawthorne.”

Are you playing against Ball State? “That’s my plan.”


Marc Mondesir, LB
Chicago St. Rita, 6-2, 210

Other interest: Northwestern, Northern Illinois, Illinois State.

Why Illinois? “It gave me the perfect combination, a complete package, for success in my future life. It provides me with a great degree. A football program that is on the rise that I can build up with, a great coaching staff that I can learn a lot from (and) a chance for me to come and play earlier.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “That’s easy: Dick Butkus. The best linebacker to play the game. He set the bar so high for the rest of us playing now.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “I plan to come in June 12 and work as hard as I can to earn that starting spot. Nothing is guaranteed. We’ll see what happens when opening week comes.”


Del’Shawn Phillips, LB
Garden City (Kan.) CC, 6-1, 230

Other interest: Arizona, Syracuse, Central Florida.

Why Illinois? “Here, I felt like we had something to build on. I feel like I can be a part of that. I paid attention to the system. The sale was really the recent linebackers that played in this system. Good coaching is a blessing to have. It’s close to home. I want my family to come see me play. They watched my first junior college game. After the game, you like to look up in the crowd or look on the field and find your mom. That played a really big part in it.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini? “Dick Butkus, of course. I’ve got no choice.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “I’m going to play my heart out in practices and I’m going to let the coaches make that decision.”


Bennett Williams, DB
Mountain View (Calif.) St. Francis, 5-11, 195

Other interest: Yale, Harvard, Hawaii, San Jose State, UNLV, Wyoming.

Rivals ranking: Two stars.

Stats that matter: Nine interceptions as a sophomore to rank among the state’s best. Had six picks as a senior.

Smart guy: Scored a 33 on his ACT.

High school coach Greg Calcagno: “He’s a big hitter.”

Family ties: His dad, Garey, played football at Cal with Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson.


Owen Carney, DE
Miami Central, 6-3, 230

Other interest: California, Florida State, LSU.

Why Illinois? “The first phone call I had with (assistant coach) Thaddaeus Ward, we talked for 45 minutes. He told me, ‘You’re good, but you’re not that good. The sky’s the limit.’ I was like, ‘What is this guy talking about?’ It finally started to click, especially on my last visit Dec. 9. The coaching staff will really help me improve everything. They’ll tweak everything from high school to college and make me one of those rush men. One of the Corey Liugets, Jihad Wards, Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoots.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Vontae Davis and Rashard Mendenhall.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “That’s my mission. That’s my plan. I’ll stick by that.”


Kendrick Green, DL
Peoria High, 6-3, 270

Other interest: Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Northern Illinois.

Why Illinois? “I chose the Illini because I want to bring the program back to the top of college football.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Jihad Ward.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “I’m not sure if I’ll be starting, but that’s what I want to make happen.”


Lere Oladipo, DE
Huntley, 6-3, 240

Other interest: California, Indiana, Northwestern.

Why Illinois? “I chose Illinois because it was close to home and I had a relative there, who I have a strong relationship with. I saw many similarities between my high school and Illinois. I love the energy the coaches coach with and how excited they get their players. The Illinois staff is as good as they come, with a lot of NFL background. Illinois is on the right track with the hiring of the new staff, and I wanted to be a part of that journey that would turn the program around.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Easily Simeon Rice. That man was a beast.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “When that game comes around, I just want to be on the field, starting or not.”


Deon Pate, DE
Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Chrisian Academy, 6-3, 245

Other interest: Colorado State, Rutgers, Southern Miss, Troy.

Why Illinois? “It was the best fit for me, and I love the vision the coaches have for the program.”

Favorite athlete: “J.J. Watt because of his versatility.”

Future plans: Wants to go to law school.


Bobby Roundtree, DE
Largo (Fla.), 6-4, 230

Other interest: Boston College, Cal, Indiana, Iowa State.

Rivals ranking: Two stars.

Final fax: Roundtree was the last one of the Illini’s 2017 class to send his letter of intent in on Wednesday.


Jamal Woods, DE
Hueytown (Ala.), 6-3, 240

Other interest: Memphis, Georgia Tech, Southern Miss.

Rivals ranking: Two stars.

Honors: Team captain, all-state second team.

Stats that matter: 47 tackles, including eight for loss, in his senior season.

Other sport: Wrestling. Twice finished among the best in the state.


Larry Boyd, OL
St. Louis Trinity, 6-5, 310

Other interest: Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas State.

Rivals ranking: Three stars.

Rank among Missouri players: No. 5.

Honors: St. Louis Post-Dispatch Lineman of the Year, all-state.


Vederian Lowe, OL
Rockford Auburn, 6-5, 330

Other interest: Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue.

Why Illinois? “I chose Illinois because I feel with the new coaching staff that we have and the new recruits coming in, we can turn the program around and make us one of the best in the Big Ten. I also feel that they are a great fit for me academically, too. What really led my decision is the new coaching staff that came in and took the program over.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “I didn’t really watch much of Illinois football growing up, but I do remember watching Nate Scheelhaase play when I first started getting recruited by Illinois, and that was pretty cool.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “Coach (Luke) Butkus and I have discussed me working for a starting spot, and I was told that it will not be given to me and that I would have to work very hard for it, but I plan on starting in the opener against Ball State.”


Alex Palczewski, OL
Prospect, 6-6, 270

Other interest: Minnesota, Syracuse, Vanderbilt.

Why Illinois? “I choose Illinois because it has exactly what I want in a school: an academic program that gives me a great chance to get a good job after football, and a great relationship with Coach (Luke) Butkus. Also, I believe that Illinois needs to be put back on the map, and I want that to happen.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Luke Butkus.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “I’m going to practice every day as if I am going to start, but I know I might not.”


HoJo Watkins, OL
Cincinnati Colerain, 6-5, 280

Other interest: Cincinnati, Indiana, Louisville, Rutgers.

Why Illinois? “Why not, really? To me, being a part of Lovie’s first recruiting class is amazing. A lot of people can’t say that they’ve done that. Coming here, there is an opportunity to play early. I didn’t want to go to a program where they said, ‘We’re going to redshirt you. We just want you to develop.’ They told me, ‘We want to bring in guys like you. We want to have guys on our team that are going to play early like you.’ When they told me that, I said, ‘Wow, no other colleges told me that.’ We had a real great conversation about what they wanted me to do here.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini? “Dick Butkus and Luke Butkus. Me and Coach Butkus have a great relationship.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “I don’t know if I’ll start, but I don’t plan on redshirting.”


Louis Dorsey, WR/TE
Jacksonville (Fla.) Ribault, 6-6, 220

Other interest: Baylor, North Carolina, West Virginia.

Why Illinois? “I picked Illinois because most of the coaches have coached or played in the NFL, so I know they will get me prepared for the next level”.

Who is your all-time favorite Illini? “Brandon Lloyd.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “Yes, I’m starting.”


Carmoni Green, WR
Miami Central, 6-1, 190

Other interest: North Carolina, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina.

Why Illinois? “The deciding factors were the coaches that recruited me; we built a great relationship. I saw that I could have a chance to play early. The competition level in the Big Ten is pretty big. That could help me and my stock in trying to go to the NFL.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Carroll Phillips. I look up to him, and he’s a hard worker.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “Yes, of course. You’ve got to play with a lot of confidence, but you’ve also got to be humble. I try to put both of them together.”


Ricky Smalling, WR
Chicago Brother Rice, 6-1, 189

Other interest: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin.

Why Illinois? “I chose Illinois because it is a great school and I built a great relationship with the coaches.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Receiver Chris James.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “That’s my plan, to get on campus in the summer and compete for a starting spot.”


Kendall Smith, WR
Bolingbrook, 6-2, 175

Other interest: Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Nevada.

Why Illinois? “It’s always a favorite school of mine, and I want to be a part of the change.”

Favorite athlete? “Devin Hester because of his big-play ability.”

Rivals ranking: Three stars.


Ra’Von Bonner, RB
Cincinnati Sycamore, 6-0, 210

Other interest: Cincinnati, Iowa, Western Michigan.

Why Illinois? “Because it’s God’s plan.”

Favorite athletes: “Ray Lewis and Tim Tebow. They are both great leaders.”

Future plans: Go into the ministry.


Mike Epstein, RB
Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, 6-0, 185

Other interest: Boston College, Louisville, Michigan, Rutgers.

Why Illinois? “Great coaching staff that I feel very comfortable with. Great fit and situation for me. One of the top academic schools in the country, while playing Big Ten football.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “Rashard Mendenhall.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “I’m going to work my tail off to put myself in the best situation I can for myself and the team.”


Dwayne Lawson, QB*
Garden City (Kan.) C.C., 6-6, 220

Why Illinois? “Throughout this process they have been the most supportive of me as a person. ... I truly believe the Illinois coaches are also supportive of me as a man.”

Who is your all-time favorite Illini football player? “I respect all the players that have been a part of the Illini and am proud that I get to join the great history.”

Are you starting against Ball State? “I’m not going to focus on starting against Ball State. I’m going to focus on having a great summer, then fall camp. If I do that, good things will come my way.”

*Has not signed; expected to join team during summer


Cam Thomas, QB
Marian Catholic, 6-3, 180

Why Illinois? “Because of the family environment I felt from Day 1. Everyone here is genuine, and it’s refreshing to work alongside others who want a common goal and that’s to win the Big Ten championship and compete for the national championship.”

Favorite athlete? “Mike Vick because he started the cultural change at quarterback and paved the way for quarterbacks like myself, who are dual threat, to showcase our talent.”

Future plans: Become a sports agent.

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jjrepp wrote on February 02, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Moonpie, I think you should stop posting regarding this recruiting class as you clearly don't have a clue who Illinois beat for many of these players other than what you read in this article. Ohio State offered Bonnor a scholarship a few days ago. Beat teams like Iowa, FSU, LSU, Baylor, Arizona, UNC, Louisville, Penn State among others for players.

There were maybe 3 or 4 players that Illinois signed that did not have offers from power 5 conferences.

Under Beckman, it was just the opposite. If you recall, most players picked Illinois as it was their best offer.

You can complain about a lot of things, but this 1st recruiting class should not be one of them.