Updated at 3:50 p.m.
WINNETKA — Max Rosenthal interacted with the Illinois football coaching staffs of Bill Cubit and Lovie Smith prior to graduating from New Trier High in 2017.
But the Winnetka native felt the two resulting visits were more about the Illini getting a feel for Rosenthal's college intentions, rather than concretely wanting the running back/tight end/linebacker wearing an Illinois uniform.
Rosenthal's conversations with new Illini coach Bret Bielema and some of his assistants? Those carried a different vibe.
"It felt a lot more legitimate," Rosenthal told The News-Gazette on Tuesday afternoon, hours after he announced plans to transfer to Illinois after spending four seasons at Michigan State. "It’s something they were really looking to commit to. That’s when I made the decision (that) if the offer were to come, it’s definitely something I was going to jump on."
Rosenthal did so Tuesday morning, verbally committing to Illinois "on the spot" after a phone call with Bielema, offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, tight ends coach Ben Miller and offensive line coach Bart Miller. Bart Miller served as Rosenthal's lead recruiter.
Rosenthal saw time both at fullback and tight end with Michigan State, and he'll have two years of eligibility remaining with the Illini.
"(Bielema) gave me a vision of what he wanted the Illinois program to look like and what they’re trying to build," Rosenthal said, "so it’s definitely something I’ve already bought into and something I can see myself being a part of, and I want to see this program grow and succeed."
Rosenthal is the third FBS transfer to commit to Illinois for the 2021 season, joining North Carolina State linebacker C.J. Hart and East Carolina running back Chase Hayden.
The 6-foot-2, 262-pound Rosenthal entered the transfer portal last month after not playing in a game during Michigan State's 2020 season. Rosenthal redshirted in 2017, then suited up as a fullback in 2018 and 2019 to produce two touchdowns.
Coach Mark Dantonio's retirement last February led to Mel Tucker's hire by the Spartans. New offensive coordinator Jay Johnson subsequently installed an offense that phased out the fullback role, forcing Rosenthal to become a true tight end.
"I’ve always been in the tight end room, but I actually had to transition into more of a traditional tight end," Rosenthal said. "Offensively, what we were doing at Michigan State, kind of spreading the field more, was not really football I’m accustomed to."
Rosenthal was pursued by the aforementioned past Illini coaching staffs as a linebacker. He said Bielema and Co. indicated they wish to utilize Rosenthal in "more of a tight end/H-back type role," through which he'd primarily block and catch short passes.
"Very similar to what I’ve done my past three seasons at Michigan State," Rosenthal said, "so I felt very comfortable with this decision."
Bart Miller, whose hire was announced Dec. 29, first reached out to Rosenthal via Twitter late last week. It was an ideal pairing, given Miller's roots in Elk Grove Village, about 25 miles from Winnetka.
"Right off the bat it was very intriguing," Rosenthal said. "It was something I really wanted to be a part of."
Rosenthal's father and paternal grandfather both graduated from Illinois as well, and Rosenthal recalls watching Rashard Mendenhall, Juice Williams and other Illini from some of the program's most successful teams in the 2000s while growing up.
The recruiting process, however, didn't generate aggressive interest for Rosenthal in high school. Air Force, Bowling Green and Fordham constituted his official offers, and Rosenthal ultimately walked on at Michigan State before eventually receiving a scholarship under Dantonio, then going back to walk-on status under Tucker.
"(Playing at Illinois) was something I always dreamed of. Never fully saw it becoming a reality," Rosenthal said. "After I got off the phone with Coach Bielema, I called my dad first, and he was in tears. He was very excited."
CHAMPAIGN — Bret Bielema on Tuesday secured his third transfer commitment when Michigan State fullback/tight end Max Rosenthal informed Bielema he's joining the Illinois football program.
Rosenthal follows North Carolina State linebacker C.J. Hart and East Carolina running back Chase Hayden in linking to the Illini from a different college since Bielema's December hire. Alabama high schooler Joshua McCray also has committed to Illinois, as a running back.
The 2017 New Trier graduate Rosenthal redshirted at Michigan State in 2017 before spending two seasons as a Spartans fullback, posting one touchdown in both 2018 and 2019. Rosenthal transitioned to tight end for the 2020 campaign but did not dress, ultimately entering the transfer portal in December.
The 6-foot-2, 262-pound Rosenthal received interest from Illinois in high school, according to his Rivals.com page, but not an official offer. He was a running back and middle linebacker at New Trier, though he shifted to tight end as a senior.
Should Rosenthal remain at tight end with the Illini, he'd join a group that includes leading returning receiver Daniel Barker, Luke Ford and Griffin Moore.