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Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, center, looks up at the scoreboard during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, center, looks up at the scoreboard during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

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CHAMPAIGN — Marquez Beason walked on crutches out of the recruiting lounge under the north end zone stands at Memorial Stadium about 30 minutes before Illinois’ game against Eastern Michigan late Saturday morning. The freshman cornerback had knee surgery on Tuesday after suffering the season-ending injury during training camp. Recovery and rehab is up next.

Following Beason onto the field was 2020 commit Reggie Love. Also on crutches. The four-star Trinity Catholic (Mo.) running back fractured his left ankle on Sept. 7 in the Titans’ loss to East St. Louis.

“I’m good,” Love said. “I’ll be back in districts for playoffs.”

Illinois was less good Saturday in a 34-31 loss to Eastern Michigan after all the discussion leading into the game centered on how a win — and a 3-0 start to the season — was important in year four of the Lovie Smith era. Even Love, excited about getting to his first game this season, was on board with that message.

Saturday’s loss wasn’t good in any manner of ways for Illinois. For its bowl hopes. Simply for perception. But Love — one of eight commits in the 2020 class for the Illini — remains positive in the other message he’s sharing with potential recruits.

“The same message I’ve been preaching when I committed,” he said. “Illinois is most definitely on the come up. We can come here and do great things. All they need is playmakers — just like any other school.”

Love has received an insider’s look at Illinois football with former teammates Isaiah Williams and Shammond Cooper on the Illini roster. He knows what to expect as a freshman next season.

“(Williams) told me I’m going to come in, it’s not going to be easy at all and you’ve got to come here and work,” Love said. “I know he’s going to work, and he knows I’m going to come in and work. When I get here, stay ready. If I’m not starting, I’ll always be working out, working on my body and working on finishing runs. You never know when your name is going to get called.”

Love had 19 carries for 85 yards before his injury against East St. Louis, as Trinity Catholic struggled to an 0-2 start with losses to Lutheran North (Mo.) and the Flyers. He was on the sideline Friday as the Titans got back on track with a 90-6 win against DuBourg (Mo.), which helps alleviate some of his down feelings after getting hurt.

“I watched my guys perform (Friday) and I’m happy for them,” Love said. “Still state. We’re still going to win state.”

Trinity Catholic defending its state title from a year ago now rests more in the hands of senior wide receiver James Frenchie. The Illinois commit has two touchdowns — one rushing, one receiving — in the first three weeks, and Love is happy to have his teammate on board for next season with the Illini.

“I was excited getting James committed,” Love said. “I’ve been playing with him and playing against him since we were in little league. I know what he can do. I feel like we can do a lot of great things like we’ve done at Trinity.

“Me and him are more like the same type of guy. He’s better in the pass game a little bit. I’m better in the run game by a little bit. Me and him is just a dynamic duo. Lining both of us up in the backfield, you never know who’s going to get the ball. He has an ability to finish runs. Also, you can line me up in the slot now. Versatility matters in football nowadays.”

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).