Lovie, Illini nearly wrap up 2018 class

Lovie, Illini nearly wrap up 2018 class

CHAMPAIGN — New offensive coordinator Rod Smith, who joined the Illinois program Jan. 19, is already having an impact.

Of the five players signed by Lovie Smith on Wednesday, Rod Smith had a hand in two of them: running back Kenyon Sims and quarterback Matt Robinson.

The 24-player class includes three quarterbacks. Peoria's Coran Taylor and Californian Robinson signed Wednesday.

Texan M.J. Rivers signed during the early period in December.

Rod Smith visited with all three quarterbacks. Taylor was the first recruit Smith saw.

"I probably spent about two hours with him," Smith said. "It was really good. He's a neat kid. Very talented, obviously. I'm excited to get to work with him.

"I wanted to make sure he felt comfortable with me and I felt comfortable with him as a person. I saw the player on film."

Smith got a scouting report on Robinson from his uncle, longtime college and NFL coach Greg Robinson. They worked together on Rich Rodriguez's staff at Michigan.

"Greg was trying to sell him and I said, 'I'll definitely take a look at him.' " Smith said. "When I watched him, I thought, 'Wow, this kid's pretty good.' I got more intrigued as I watched him."

All four quarterbacks are dual threats. That's what Lovie Smith wanted when he took over the Illinois program.

"We've made that clear," he said. "The quarterback room is going to look completely different."

The players have similar skillsets. Identical? No.

"I don't think you ever get four or five guys who are carbon copies," Rod Smith said. "Everybody has their own strength and weakness. Our job will be to identify the strengths and maximize and accentuate those strengths. And allow those guys to play fast, play efficient and play with confidence."

It will take time for the players to become comfortable with Smith's offense.

"It's going to take a commitment on their part," he said.

The player who is the most efficient will win the job.

"It will all sort itself out," Smith said.

Rod Smith watched the Super Bowl on Sunday. The longtime Eagles fan liked the outcome.

Why the Eagles?

"My father (Gary) is my idol," Smith said. "He's a huge, diehard Washington Redskins fan. Growing up, it's all about competition. I couldn't be a Redskins fan. And I hated Dallas. I love the Eagles jersey. I loved Reggie White. I love Keith Jackson, Randall Cunningham, Vai Sikahema, Mike Quick, Fred Barnett, Seth Joyner. Loved them. I was just a fan."

Jackson's son Kenyon is a defensive lineman at Illinois. Smith looks forward to meeting Keith.

"I'll be excited," Smith said.

With 24 players signed, Illinois can make one more addition before the start of the season.

"We have a guy in mind," Lovie Smith. "Once it's official with him, we'll announce it."

Smith said he will also look to add graduate transfers.

"It's an ongoing process to improve our ballclub," he said. "We still have options as we go forward."

Lovie Smith remains in favor of the early signing period. All but five plaeyers in the 2018 class made formal commitments in December.

"I love the early signing period," he said. "If you can even sign earlier that's a good thing."

The early period has changed the recruiting calendar for Illinois and other schools.

"Things will be pushed up," Smith said. "We'll have more guys coming on campus, official visits starting earlier and using more during the course of the season. All those things we'll look at as we go forward."

As of Wednesday night, the Illinois recruiting class was ranked 50th nationally by Rivals.com. That put the Illini 12th in the Big Ten. Ohio State and Penn State are in the top five. Rutgers and Northwestern trail the Illini.

"Last year, we had an excellent class," Lovie Smith said. "I feel like this class is just as good or better. I don't know how that will rank.

"I know in our room, we feel real good about this class coming in."

Rod Smith said he uses his own evaluations.

"I trust my own eyes," he said. "I don't need someone to tell me if he is a three or four or five star. Does it look nice? Is it good water cooler talk? Sure it is. At the end of the day that's not what's going to make or break my decision as far as who we take."

Illinois has two openings to fill on its coaching staff.

"We're in the process," Lovie Smith said. "During ths time, we've had a chance to talk to a lot of outstanding football coaches that have a lot of interest in our program and what we're actually doing. Hopefully, by the end of this week, we can announce all of our hires."

New arrivals: 2018 UI football class

Calvin Avery, DT, Dallas Bishop Dunne
Daniel Barker, TE, Deerfield Beach (Fla.)
Sydney Brown, DB, Bradenton (Fla.) St. Stephen Episcopal
Verdis Brown, DL, IMG Academy
Edwin Carter, WR,    Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood
Ron Hardge, CB, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons
Jacob Hollins, LB, Fresno (Calif.) Central East
Ezekiel Holmes, DE, Wichita Falls (Texas) Hirschi
Kerby Joseph, DB, Orlando (Fla.) Jones
Jartavius Martin, CB, Lehigh (Fla.)
Shaedon Meadors, WR, Appalachian State
Kievan Myers, OL, Dallas Bishop Dunne
Jakari Norwood, RB, Deerfield Beach (Fla.)
Julian Pearl, OL, Danville
M.J. Rivers, QB, Frisco (Texas) Lone Star
Matt Robinson, QB, San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) J Serra
Carlos Sandy, WR, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons
Kenyon Sims, RB, San Diego Lincoln
Jordyn Slaughter, OL, Belleville Althoff
Coran Taylor, QB, Peoria    
Khalan Tolson, LB, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Farragut Academy
Reuben Unije, OL, IMG Academy
Nick Walker, DB, Cisco College (Texas)
Delano Ware, DB, El Cerrito, Calif.

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MasterOfTheObvious wrote on February 08, 2018 at 5:02 am

So, let's look at this as Smith's first class.

May as well look at this like his first season too, as the coaching staff will be 50% new.

Two years, 5 wins, 19 losses - chalk that all up to residue from the Beckman Era.

Few Beckman players are still around, and fewer actually play significant roles.

2018 is Lovie's team. Lovie's staff, Lovie's vibe.


Final recruiting rankings had Illinois in at 12th out of 14, edging out Rutgers and Northwestern out of the Big Ten.  Both teams beat Illinois in 2017 on the field.

Rutgers is not a good program. Northwestern is a solid program, and wins regularly even though they are pretty much always at the bottom of recruiting rankings.  Why?  Northwestern has coaches who can teach and actually, gulp, coach people up to be better, to play as a team, to achieve results.


My prediction for 2018 Illinois Football is 4-8, no bowl.

WIN vs Kent State

WIN vs Western Illinois

LOSS to South Florida in Chicago

LOSS to Penn State

WIN vs Rutgers on the road < biggest game of the year as a loss could mean a death spiral

LOSS to Purdue

LOSS to Wisconsin

LOSS to Maryland

WIN over Minnesota < best chance for a win over the last 7 games

LOSS to Nebraska

LOSS to Iowa

LOSS to Northwestern


A 4-win season with the turmoil around this program would be an achievement, the bar is low.