Asmussen | Williams en route to Illinois

Asmussen | Williams en route to Illinois

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They spell their first names different ways. But their impact could be the same.

Almost 13 years after Isiah "Juice" Williams took the plunge and said "Yes" to Ron Zook at Illinois, Isaiah Williams had Lovie Smith's Illini high on his college list, and on Friday morning, announced he committed to the Illini.

The St. Louis Trinity Catholic quarterback, who was coached earlier in his career by current Illinois assistant Cory Patterson, hinted early this week he would make an announcement today. And he did. 

In a big way for the Illini.

Williams has an impressive list of schools to pick from. His offers include national champion Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and the rest of the Big Ten.

He is the top-rated junior prospect in Missouri and No. 28 nationally according to 247 Sports. ranks him at No. 37 overall.

He's a big-time player, the kind of guy the school hasn't been able to think about recruiting in recent years.

"Call me back when you are winning again," was the thought process for many of the top players.

It takes a special player, one with extreme self-confidence, to pick a school that hasn't been winning. Frankly, they are the kind of players you really want. They will work harder to prove the doubters wrong.

Juice Williams faced plenty of skeptics when he picked Illinois. But he saw the potential and it turned out he was right.

His win against No. 1 Ohio State in 2007 puts him in a special place for Illinois fans. When folks start talking about great victories that one is on the first page. At least.

Big man on campus

Their first names aren't the only difference between the Williamses. As a high school junior, Juice checked in at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds. He played at Chicago Vocational, the same school as Illini legend Dick Butkus.

The younger Williams is listed at 5-11, 170 pounds.

Juice started a run of great recruits in the 2006 class. Just like Zook hoped he would.

Future NFL players Vontae Davis, Jeff Cumberland, Jerry Brown, Jon Asamoah and Michael Hoomanawanui followed Juice's lead and signed.

The group of 27 was ranked No. 30 nationally. Beyond the future pros, Illinois got solid production from most of the class.

The class was critical to a jump from two wins in 2006 to nine in 2007. And a Rose Bowl berth.

Could Isaiah Williams be part of another turnaround?

That's the idea. Lovie Smith got off to a good start in recruiting when four-star Texan Marquez Beason picked the school last weekend. Landing Williams makes this a great start to the 2019 class

This commitment from one of the best players in the country means progress for Illinois. And figures to lead to more top-rated recruits.

Illinois has made oodles of offers. Across the country. At all positions.

It is hitting Florida, Texas and California hard. And Illinois. Eighteen players from the state have offers. Many more in nearby St. Louis.

The good word

I called around this week to ask about Isaiah Williams. The player and the person.

The talk in St. Louis is that he is the real deal. A difference-maker, which has been an Illinois shortcoming in recent years.

There is a question if he will end up being a quarterback in college. Some of the schools like him as an "athlete," which could mean multiple spots.

Illinois can promise him a chance to play quarterback. Right away.

Williams won't arrive until 2019. In '18, the quarterback room will be short on college experience.

The lone old guy will be Virginia Tech transfer A.J. Bush. The graduate transfer played sparingly in 2017 for the Hokies. He is going on his fourth school after starting his career at Nebraska. Lovie Smith is his fifth head coach in five seasons.

After Bush, it gets really young. Sophomore Cam Thomas is the only scholarship quarterback on campus this spring and has the advantage of Rod Smith's full-time attention.

Thomas will be joined in the fall by freshmen M.J. Rivers, Matt Robinson and Coran Taylor.

Williams won't have to worry about the current roster for another year. First-year coordinator Smith will gear the offense to his starter. And Williams' height won't be an issue.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at

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Bwp 5P wrote on March 23, 2018 at 9:03 am

Wonder when our resident Curmudgeon is going to explain to us why this isn't great news?

Personally...........I think it's Fantastic News!! WELCOME to Champaign Young Mr. Williams!

Moonpie wrote on March 23, 2018 at 9:03 am

It would be good news if the guys wasn't tiny. The Gazoo sportywriters are falling all over themselves because of the mythical designation of "five-star recruit." That's all they can see--Lovie has a five-star! Finally! Bowl-bound!

He weighs 170. Not even big enough to play safety. Maybe he's destined to be a slot receiver. 

Will Lovie Dovie even be here when the tiny QB arrives?

jjohnson wrote on March 23, 2018 at 10:03 am

The most exciting college quarterback I ever saw was Antwaan Randle El. If memory serves me correctly, he was about Isaiah Williams size, Moondoo

PortlandIllini wrote on March 23, 2018 at 10:03 am

Good job Lovie and staff!    

But as soon as Zook had recruiting success at Illinois,   the rumors started  in the press that the Illini were cheating.    

If they sign couple more 4 and 5 star recruits, Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly will start complaining .  Be prepared.