Pearl ‘excited about seeing my ceiling’

Pearl ‘excited about seeing my ceiling’

DANVILLE — Julian Pearl has an entire college football career to look forward to at Illinois, with the anticipation only growing from his April 21, 2017, commitment flip from Northern Illinois to signing in December with the Illini. 

The Illini start their spring schedule today. Pearl, who won’t join the team until the summer after graduating from Danville, is still expecting the coaches to reach out. It’s time to turn his attention to football.

Pearl just wishes that switch wasn’t happening so soon. The future Illini football player had his senior season of basketball come to an abrupt, surprising end Friday in a 56-51 loss to Moline in a Class 4A regional championship game in Danville.

A 48-12 record during the last two seasons, including a regional title as a junior and 26 wins as a senior, wasn’t enough basketball — or at least enough time with his basketball teammates — for the soon to be football-focused Pearl.

“I’ll probably keep in touch with every single guy on that roster for the rest of my life,” Pearl said. “The chemistry, the bond that we had together, is something unbreakable. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. The saddest part about knowing our season ends right here is the daily communication and daily grind and struggle with each of these guys I play with is over.

“What made me love basketball was the relationship you build with your teammates. You really make brothers when you play, and that’s a real feeling.”

Pearl will start building new relationships on the football field with his Illinois teammates this summer. That he’ll be joined on the Illini football team by Danville teammate Caleb Griffin is a bonus. Fellow Vikings senior Shanice Garbutt will run cross country and track for the Illini, too.

“We have a couple people from our school (going to Illinois),” Pearl said. “It makes it much easier for us to keep our relationships going and keep a sense of family at the college family so we don’t feel alone.”

On Pearl’s immediate to do list are workouts. While the bulk of his future Illini teammates go through spring ball, Pearl will get in his own work following the plan he said the Illinois coaches sent every 2018 signee.

“Anything that can get me in the weight room working out,” Pearl said is his plan. “Right now the only thing on my mind is developing my body.”

Pearl will be developing his body with no definitive plan set for which position he might play in college. A defensive end and tight end in high school, Illinois coach Lovie Smith has said he could play either spot for the Illini or even on the offensive line.

Pearl has his preference. After racking up 98 tackles during his senior season for the Vikings, Pearl would rather be chasing after quarterbacks than protecting them.

“I like knowing that if I get my job done up front it makes everything else easier for the team,” he said. “All I’ve got to do is give my all to take a little pressure off the rest of the defense. Offense is kind of like all five have to work together to get it done. Defense is more of an individual thing, individual process you can complete by yourself, and I prefer that.”

Pearl could still wind up on the Illinois offensive line. After all, that was the position he was recruited at, checking in as the No. 41 offensive tackle in the country per 247Sports. That was based on his potential and the ability to add to his 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame.

Finding out what his potential truly is intrigues Pearl. 

“I’m excited about seeing my ceiling, my peak,” he said. “I hear a lot of people telling me about my capabilities and my ceiling is so high. I’m excited to see where that’s at.”