BY JIM COTTER
Football recruiting at the collegiate level is a year-round job in this day and age, and for second year Illinois football coach Tim Beckman, the necessity to bring in the right players was the main focus for he and his staff.
Beckman, who brought in 25 total players in this class, had several aspects to sell to potential recruits — namely playing time. Coming off of a 2-win season in 2012, plus the fact that several players in key positions either graduated or left early for the NFL, opened up the opportunity for these players to step in and compete for playing time right away.
The defensive line is one of those areas that warrant immediate concern, and with losing Michael Buchanan to graduation and Akeem Spence early to the NFL, the potential for playing time right away was a huge reason why some of these recruits chose the Illini over other schools where they may not have had the opportunity to contribute right away.
One player that should make an immediate impact is Paul James III from Miami, Fla., who should give some immediate help to a position that was depleted with the loss of Buchanan and Spence. James is one of two players in this recruiting class that played in national all-star games (running back Kendrick Foster from Peoria Richwoods being the other)
Breaking down this group of players, 10 of them were early enrollees at the university, including five players from the junior college ranks. This was the most juco transfers that any Illinois recruiting class had brought in during the last 20 years.
“The reason that we brought in so many junior college transfers this year was the fact that they gave us immediate depth at some of the key positions, as well as some experience on the field, given the fact that the junior class was not a huge class to begin with,” Beckman said. “The primary reason that you sign junior college players is for need purposes, and being that we are such a young football team, the need aspect was definitely there.”
Another key element in the breakdown of this class was that 15 of the 25 total recruits came from what Beckman calls “Illini Nation,” meaning within a six hour radius of Champaign-Urbana. According to Beckman, this is an area that they focused on during the recruitment of these individuals.
“This is the area that we feel is crucial to the success of Illini Nation, and the ability to keep these players close to home is one reason why we concentrated on this area,” Beckman said.
Perhaps the most heralded recruit of this class is quarterback Aaron Bailey from Bolingbrook in south-suburban Chicago, a player that kept his commitment to Illinois even though the coach that was primarily responsible for getting the initial contact with him, Chris Beatty, was let go in the off-season.
A four star recruit that had a stellar high school career, Bailey was beset by some injury problems his senior season at Bolingbrook and brings a lot of upside to Illinois.
Bailey could be seen as a player that can change the face of a program, and according to recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh, “Aaron has made it cool to come to play at Illinois again.”
Another prominent player in this recruiting class also has some strong roots to the Fighting Illini family.
Bryce Douglas, a defensive lineman from Plainfield, is the son of former Illini basketball standout Bruce Douglas, and brings a big frame to the defensive line. Douglas, who weighs in at 320 pounds and can bench press 415 pounds, will attempt to step right in and give some immediate help to a position that is in need of some size.
Another position group that is wide open is the secondary, where most everyone from a year ago is gone. Caleb Day, a four star recruit from Hilliard, Ohio, should compete for playing time right away, as will a couple of early enrollees, Darius Mosely from downstate O’Fallon and Dillan Cazley from Charleston. The fact that so many of these players are already on campus is just a testament to how hard these guys worked to get done with their high school classwork.
“The players that came in early, either as juco transfers or straight from high school, demonstrates their willingness to start getting in the weight room and preparing themselves for spring practice,” Beckman said of the early enrollees.
Golesh wanted to stress the fact that nothing was promised to these players, but the opportunity to compete was given, and that was one of the selling points that they used in the recruiting process of these players.
“We never promised anyone playing time, but did stress to them that they have the opportunity to step in and play right away,” Golesh said.
A complete list of all 25 recruits in this year’s class, including highlight videos of all the players, can be found by going to this link: http://www.fightingillini.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/020613aab.html
The Illini will begin spring practices on March 5, with the annual spring game set for April 12 at Memorial Stadium.