CHAMPAIGN — Illinois football is in the midst of a recruiting surge. It’s visible to anyone paying attention — including recruits.
So was Henry Boyer’s verbal commitment to Bret Bielema’s program last Thursday a direct result of the Illini snagging commitments from New Jersey tight end Owen Anderson and former Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski the day prior?
“You could say more than anything what affected my decision was Illinois has everything I wanted,” the Brother Rice junior tight end told The News-Gazette. “I feel like I’m surrounded by genuinely good people. It came to a point where it was everything I really want in a school is right here, so why wait? I wanted to go take that spot and become part of the family.”
Boyer became the seventh Class of 2022 recruit to link himself to Illinois, joined a few hours later by Joliet Catholic junior running back Jordan Anderson. Those two upped the Illini’s 2022 in-state haul to four, alongside Rochester wide receiver Hank Beatty and Iroquois West offensive guard Clayton Leonard.
“It meant a ton,” Boyer said of receiving an offer from Bielema’s staff on April 17. “My dad’s from southern Illinois. I have a ton of family down there. They’d grown up fans. They’re so excited to come see me play, to represent Illinois and to hopefully grow from the ground up.”
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Boyer also represents a fairly evident trend in Illinois’ recruiting for this class.
“We’re really getting some big studs,” Boyer said. “We’re getting a lot of big guys, some big O-linemen. I think that’s exciting. I think it’s a really good direction we could be going in.”
The Illini’s Class of 2022 haul so far includes three offensive linemen, two tight ends and a 6-3, 220-pound running back in Anderson.
Boyer’s size actually fluctuated in a significant way prior to his first season with Brother Rice this spring, which followed the Oak Lawn native playing two seasons at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago.
“I had the luck of I gained weight over this past year,” Boyer said. “That was a big aspect of my success: being physically ready to play with these teams and becoming a better overall tight end.”
Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said Boyer has “tremendous upside” and believes Boyer will play a critical role in any success experienced by the Crusaders next fall. Brother Rice played for the Class 8A state championship in 2018, losing to Loyola Academy at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The Crusaders have 21 playoff appearances in program history and won a 6A state title in 1981.
If they want to get back to that pinnacle, Boyer is critical.
“He was very explosive and had a good first step,” Badke said. “He decelerates his feet on contact, and he’s got really good hands. When you’re 6-7 and you have hands, that’s a very difficult thing to defend. He improved at blocking, in his physicality. He’s got tremendous upside in all facets.”
Boyer said he was utilized primarily as a blocking tight end at Walter Payton Prep. But Badke’s staff got Boyer in on the receiving game, though Badke noted he’d like even more passes to go Boyer’s direction this fall.
“I’ve been described as a very willing blocker,” Boyer said. “Also being willing to catch a pass 6 to 20 yard down the field, that was kind of where (Illinois’) interest sparked.”
Boyer’s high school transfer decision also seems to be preparing him for a Power Five football lifestyle.
“Playing in the Chicago Catholic League Blue, it’s arguably one of the best conferences in the Midwest,” Boyer said. “I’m going against guys one day down the line I could be playing against on Saturdays.”
Badke said he’s heard from Bielema, defensive line coach Terrance Jamison and director of Illinois high school relations Pat Ryan within the last month. Chicago is the centerpiece of Jamison’s in-state recruiting region, and Boyer also plays what he calls a “defensive tackle hybrid” for Brother Rice.
“I’ve heard more from U of I coaches in the last three weeks than I did in five years. And I’ve had three players play at the U of I during that time,” Badke said in reference to quarterback Cam Miller, receiver Ricky Smalling and offensive lineman Evan Kirts. “A lot of other schools that were going to start recruiting (Boyer), they were looking at him more as a tackle. He had a couple offers — Kent State was one of them, and Illinois — and they were recruiting him as a tight end. With it being the Big Ten and the opportunity to play here in his home state, I think that was very appealing.”
Boyer said his commitment to reaching the Power Five echelon of college football is something he’s especially proud of.
“Growing up, I was never the kid who scored four touchdowns a game or was the big-stats guy,” Boyer said. “It was over time growing into my body, working hard, pushing, grinding — especially … when the world has been turned upside down (by the COVID-19 pandemic). It was a really cool moment because you feel like it’s paid off.”