In just a few short hours, Illini football fans will finally get what they have been anxiously waiting for: Illinois Football will be back. Fans will once again return to Memorial Stadium with happy, hopeful attitudes, as the Illini football team will once again take the field.
Of course, with the return of Illini football comes a new group of non-conference foes waiting in the corners to face the young, Illini team, and attempt to give the young group of Illini players a cold welcome into the world of college football.
The first opponent the Illini will face as the new season begins comes in the form of Kent State, a Mid-American Conference opponent whose situation arguably resembles that of the Illinois program’s: a rebuild. The Kent State Golden Flashes come into Memorial Stadium on Saturday on the heels of going 2-10 last season, hiring a new coach (the youngest in the FBS in 31-year-old Sean Lewis), and completely changing their defensive scheme.
You can read more about Kent State, their situation coming into their season opener against the Illini, and their key-playmakers in my recent article “Know The Foe” when I detailed everything you need to know about Kent State Football ahead of their game against the Illini.
As stated above, Kent State are in a weird place as a program currently, with swapping their entire defensive system, as well as losing five of their starters on defense.
That being said, the Illini surely can’t overlook the Golden Flashes, as they have a new head coach in Sean Lewis, a Dino Babers product, and one of the most highly-touted young coaches in college football. Lewis brings a new approach to the Kent State team, one that highly prefers speed and athleticism to throw opponents off.
Most analysts have Illinois winning in big fashion over the Kent State team, which will undoubtedly leave a chip on the shoulders of the Kent State team. That being said, in the past the Kent State team has struggled heavily to put up points on offense, despite typically having overall decent offenses.
My prediction may be a little bit closer than what most analysts are saying about this game. That being said, I think Illinois will come out on top, despite likely struggling in the early drives of the game to get the offense flowing. With a young team like Illinois has, under a new offensive system, you’re bound to see some slip-ups.
Golden Flash Player to Watch (Offense): Woody Barret (Sophomore, QB)
Woody Barret comes into the Kent State football depth chart at the quarterback position after transferring in from Auburn after just one year with the program. Even though Kent State isn’t planning on announcing a starting quarterback before gameday on Saturday, it could logically be assumed that we’ll see Barret under center at the start of the game.
That being said, returning sophomore Dustin Crum threw for over 200 yards, and rushed for over 300 yards last season after coming in as a relief quarterback. Barret played in the 2017 season before his transfer at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. He racked up 1,294 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Barret is a talented dual-threat quarterback, who will provide a good preview of what this Illinois defense will see in terms of mobile quarterbacks in the upcoming season. Barret also ran for 485 yards in his season at Copiah-Lincoln, and racked up six touchdowns.
Golden Flash Player to Watch (Defense): Matt Bahr (Senior, LB)
Matt Bahr is one of my favorite defensive players on the Kent State defense, and probably overall. Although admittedly junior running back Justin Rankin probably takes the cake in the “favorite Kent State player” category of my award show. (Can we make that a thing?)
Bahr is a redshirt senior coming off of being injured and missing the majority of the season last year. Bahr played in Kent State’s week one matchup against Clemson, but was injured in Week 2 and missed all following games. Bahr’s return is a big deal for the Kent State defense, alongside another player to watch in senior linebacker Jim Jones, who led the team in tackles last year.
Bahr, after joining Kent State as a walk-on, has moved his way up through the ranks, excelling on both special teams and regular defensive coverage. A linebacking core of Jones and Bahr will prove an interesting challenge for the young Illinois offense, led by new transfer quarterback A.J. Bush.
Illini Player to Watch (Offense): A.J. Bush (Senior, QB)
A.J. Bush, after brief stints at multiple schools before finding himself at Illinois as the now-starting QB, has impressed in his time at Illinois thus far. Fans and scouts alike have been impressed by his arm skill. Bush has exhibited great touch over the top, and accuracy when throwing on even the more tough routes.
Though it could be argued that many of the new faces of the Illinois quarterback room have a better skillset than many of the quarterbacks that Illinois has had in the past few years, Bush undoubtedly has a unique skillset. His ability to remain composed in the pocket thus far in practices has been great to watch, and his evasion skills allow him to open up seemingly dead-end plays into chances for big yardage.
Bush came in quickly and took control of the Illinois offense, and even though he hasn’t exactly had too much in-game experience, he is a welcome addition to an Illinois team in need of an offensive leader under center.
Illini Player to Watch (Defense): Del’Shawn Phillips (Junior, ILB)
I’m seeing Del’Shawn Phillips, who came into last year as a four-star JUCO recruit, taking up a lot of space in the middle of the field in an attempt to slow down Kent State’s desire to move the ball quickly.
Kent State comes into their season opener bolstering a new, fast-paced offense. The offense includes a mostly-unknown factor in quarterback Woody Barret, and an exciting player in running back Justin Rankin, along with a few other decent options. The Illini linebacking core is going to have its hands full trying to contain offensive options both in the run game, and in the passing game.
Phillips was second on the team in tackles during Big Ten play, and ranked eighth in the Big Ten in tackles per game as a whole. I’m looking for even more development from the linebacker from Highland Park, Michigan, who also happens to be one of the oldest players on the team. Look for interior defense to be key to stopping Kent State’s breakneck-speed offense.
My Prediction: Illinois 41, Kent State 13
As I said in my season predictions earlier on the site, which you can find in our gallery of articles (shameless plug), I think Illinois takes care of Kent State pretty easily. As Kent State was nearly unanimously voted to finish last in the MAC, I think even a team running a new offense, with a new quarterback under center in Illinois will easily take care of business come Saturday.
As for Kent State, I see good things in their future. There’s a reason Sean Lewis is highly-touted as a young, head coach, and he already brought in one of Kent State’s best recruiting classes for this year. I think Kent State’s ceiling only goes up from this season.
Overall, two teams at different stages of the rebuild come together on Saturday, for an electric atmosphere at Memorial Stadium, but Illinois walks out with the comfortable win, heading towards Western Illinois.
Location: Kent, Ohio
Mascot: Flash the Golden Eagle
2017 Record: 2-10
After finishing 127th in the nation in total offense, and dead last in the Mid-America Conference in total offense and scoring, the Kent State Golden Flashes are looking for improvement, in just about any way they can.
Over the past five years, the Flashes have struggled, winning just 14 games in the MAC.
Last season Kent State won two games, beating Howard and Miami (Ohio), ending up with a one and seven record in the MAC.
The Flashes made drastic changes in their off-season, including the dramatic hiring of 31-year-old head coach Sean Lewis: the youngest FBS coach in the league.
Lewis has a three-game stretch to start the season where they face solely “Power 5 conference teams” on the road. It will be a tough stretch to begin the season for Lewis and his team, but could provide big rewards for Lewis’ team, and give much-needed experience for a roster in need.
That three-game stretch starts when Kent State visits the Illini this Saturday on September 1st.
In a key game where the Illini will be expected by many to win, and win big, the young Illini team will have to get over their first-game shakes and take care of business when the Flashes come to town.
That being said, who are the spearheads for this Kent State team in their turnaround revival efforts, leading them into a stretch of games where they not only face Illinois, but highly-rated Penn State?
In recent years, and throughout much of the program’s history, the Flashes have struggled to maintain a consistent, effective offense. It could be easily seen how even a mediocre offense in certain years could have immensely boosted Kent State’s season, as they have oftentimes fallen victim to the “wasting” of average-to-good defenses in certain years.
Last year, the offense was one of the worst in football, which is largely the reason for them being voted (almost unanimously) to the bottom of the Mid-American Conference. Despite an overall-average defense, the Flashes struggled to move the ball, which led to the offense averaging just over 12 points a game.
With new coach Sean Lewis at the helm, and a new class of recruits, the Flashes will hope to use the incoming speed and athleticism to move the ball more effectively. Lewis was an assistant under some good head coaches, and has often confirmed his love to play fast on offense.
Perhaps the biggest need, and maybe improvement, for the Flashes is the addition of quarterback Woody Barret.
Barret is a former Auburn player who transferred in with the class of 2018. However, Barret doesn’t quite have the job locked down just yet, as Lewis hasn’t confirmed a starting QB.
It is largely assumed that either Barret or former starter Dustin Crum will get the nod for the game at Illinois. Crum threw for 232 yards on 16 of 30 passing, and rushed for 310 yards on 85 carries last year.
Should Kent State be able to be confident in who they put under center, they without a doubt have some speed and physicality at skill positions that could lead to an improvement in their offense.
Another offensive player to watch is Senior Tailback/Receiver Justin Rankin. Over two years, Rankin has 70 receptions for 646 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 1,001 yards rushing with another six touchdowns.
This game will be won or lost on the offensive side of the ball, by whoever can most effectively move the ball downfield.
Okay, so maybe we already knew that, because that’s one of the basic elements of football. The Kent State defense held up decently well last year, as did Illinois’ defense when compared to the offense.
Like Illinois, Kent State has had many defensive changes over the past year, as they lost five starters from last year’s defense. Lewis and his staff also have changed their defensive system from a 4-3 to a 3-4 system, adding another question mark to the plan.
Though it may seem like a minor thing, a scheme change while trying to regroup a defense that lost more than a few key pieces is almost never a smooth process. The question for the defense this year will be if they can adjust to the changes, and if they have the personnel to fit the change.
There are some exciting players on this Kent State defense going forward, as Coach Lewis did land some talented 3 star recruits in one of Kent State’s best recruiting classes ever. This comes in Lewis’ first class for Kent State, the class of 2018, and bodes very well for the future of the program on both sides of the ball.
One key player to Kent State’s defense should be redshirt senior linebacker Matt Bahr, who missed most of last year with injuries, but has starred on special teams and in defensive coverage after walking on to the Flashes football team his freshman year.
Bahr will be a key centerpiece of experience for a young Kent State team.
Kent State is typically solid defensively, but the questions above remain true. It has yet to be seen exactly how the defense will fare this season.
After letting opposing teams score 40+ points multiple times last season, Lewis will hope the influx of young talent, and the scheme change, along with a more productive offense, will help the defense perform better.
As someone who loves watching punters and kickers, Kent State has a very good punting unit, with punter Derek Adams, who averaged 43.6 yards per punt last year even after being asked to punt 79 times, which ended up being the 11th most punts in the FBS.
Ideally and incredibly likely, the Fighting Illini football team shouldn’t have much trouble dispelling a young, rebuilding Kent State team. However, the Illini themselves aren’t yet at their peak, despite the growing momentum that is without a doubt trending upwards.
As is typical with most teams in the situations of Illinois and Kent State, there will likely be some freshman mistakes, but Illinois looks to be the much better team on paper. However, as we have all learned in the past: sometimes the paper lies.
A win to start the season would be big for both teams, but I’d say all the pressure here lies on Illinois’ shoulders. As I said in my season predictions, which you can read here, I think the Illini will take care of business in their opening week, and win by a relatively large margin.
Look back for another installment of Know the Foe next week, when the Illini take on Western Illinois, and be sure to check back on the website and on twitter for more Illini Scoops and content, and follow Nate (@NateJWSports) on twitter!
We’re just days away from the beginning of the 2018 Illinois Fighting Illini Football season, and we here at Illini Scoops are just as excited as you guys are. That being said, how will the Illini Football team fare as compared to last year, going winless in the Big Ten?
With a freshly upgraded roster (nearly all-around), and a stable QB room that will look to improve under new Offensive Coordinator Rod Smith, how much improvement can Lovie Smith and the Illini make from their season just one year ago?
Below, our staff gave their season predictions for the Illinois Football Season, and each gave what they believe to be a key to the Illini having some success.
Nate Williamson’s Season Prediction:
I expect some improvement from the Illini, to say the least. Illini fans should be looking for a four or five win season, but for my predictions, I’m going to go with the Illini football team winning six games, and dropping six games. Taking a brief glance at this schedule, it’s one of the easiest schedules the Illini have faced in many years. A schedule without Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State bodes well for the young Illini.
I have the Illini starting at 3-0, with blowout wins against Kent State and Western Illinois. They’ll follow these games with a tight win against the University of Southern Florida. They will drop to 3-1 after a loss against Penn State, beat Rutgers and Purdue (homecoming), before dropping a game to a stacked Wisconsin team that will be in contention for the National Title. A win against a Maryland team in an interesting situation at the moment secures a bowl birth for Illinois, before they move on to losses against Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern to end the season, before they are announced to a bowl.
Key to the season: Health. The team has to keep it’s playmakers and best players healthy. A team that isn’t as deep as it would like to be, and for the Illini to succeed and achieve the wins above, they’ll have to keep positions like the offensive line, running backs, their main quarterbacks, and their linebackers all healthy. A handful of key players going down hurt the Illini greatly last year, and they’ll have to avoid that this year to succeed.
Aarman Sethi’s Season Predictions
This should be a fun year for Illini football. Head Coach Lovie Smith has announced AJ Bush as the starting QB and I definitely expect some offensive fireworks this year.
Regarding the Illini’s overall record this year I fully expect them to qualify for a bowl game. Here’s how they get there. The Illini should have a comfortable start to their season with wins over Kent State, Western Illinois, and USF. Next is a tilt with Penn State in Champaign. Penn State has too much talent currently and might be heading to the college football playoff. That’s a loss, but Rutgers and Purdue are next up and I believe Illinois will be victorious in those matchups.
This puts the Illini at an unfathomable record, for most fans, 5-1. Great start to the season, but can they finish it off? The road tilt against Maryland and the home tilt against Minnesota are the two matchups remaining that I believe Illinois can get that sixth or seventh win. That would be a remarkable season for the Illini and really bring the buzz of college football, back to Champaign.
Keys to the Season:
Skill players. Yes, the QB position is vital for an Illinois football team that will rely on its offense to pull out victories this year, but if the skill players produce, they could make AJ Bush’s year a lot easier. Expect the household Illini football names, Mikey Dudek, Ricky Smalling, Mike Epstein, Louis Dorsey, etc. , to produce big time if their team is to have a successful season.
Matt Moore’s Season Predictions
The third iteration of Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini will roar out of the gate with a remarkably improved offense. I look for 50-plus points to be scored in each of the first two games against Kent State and Western Illinois. If the Illini aren’t putting up pinball machine type numbers in the first two games, it could be a really long season once again.
The neutral site game in Chicago versus South Florida will be a stern test. South Florida will have the team speed to run all over the field with the Illini skill players. It will be time for the Illini to just make more plays than a good, but not as good as last year USF team. Just because I WANT the Illini to show good improvement, I will say that a 37-36 win over USF will begin to build some positive vibes around the program.
Ryan Evan’s Season prediction
I think it’s safe to say that Illini Scoops strongly believe in the rebuild of the Illinois football program and it’s new pieces. USF is the pivotal game that could swing a big season for Illinois. Illinois will at least double it’s win total from last season, but in my opinion, they will win all the home games they are supposed too plus steal a road game. I see Illinois winning 7 games this season and upsetting Maryland or Nebraska.
Having a Quarterback with 5 tools and quality leadership isn’t something Illinois has had in many seasons. A.J. Bush will make life so much easier for everyone and adding another year for a young but talented O-Line will be priceless. Confidence and that taste of winning for a program turning the corner will fill memorial stadium, something the players are thirsty for. Illinois wins 7 and goes bowling for the first time in 4 years.
Key to the season: Defense
This is the year Illini fans truly see what Lovie has patiently been building. He has Maulers up front on the defensive line, and many of them. Calvin Avery and Verdis Brown will help talented upperclassmen Tymir Oliver, Kenyon Jackson and Jamal Milan greatly. All 5 of those men are nasty warriors in the trenches. With the maturity and weight added to Bobby Roundtree and Isaiah Gay along with Owen Carney and Lere Oladipo, this defensive line is set for years to come. Having a healthy Jake Hansen to match with Delshawn Phillips will be critical for success this season at the weakest position of depth and experience. Dele Harding and Khalan Tolson will be names to watch as well.
Illinois already will have a top 5 secondary in the BIG once the season is over with year. Instinctual, hard hitting and relentless describes what you will see from Hobbs, Adams, Green, Watkins, Williams, Martin ,Walker, Joseph and Brown this season. Ballhawks. The Year of Lovie defense has arrived in Champaign
On Tuesday August 14th, the Illinois fighting Illini Football team held another open practice during their training camp period, while getting ready for the upcoming season. There was a lot to watch for, as is typical with so many fresh faces when a new season begins, but these training period really allow us to look at exactly who could take a leap and become a household name this season.
Lovie and Co. had another good day with their young, talented squad, and the team didn’t disappoint the fans and media members in attendance, as Illinois showed off what could be the best top-to-bottom roster it has had in recent years.
Here’s some of the key things I noticed at today’s camp, for those of you that missed my breakdowns on Twitter.
M.J. Rivers had his best day thus far, after being rewarded with second team reps for today’s practice. He showed off his high arm strength that many Illini fans have pointed out recently from his high school highlights. Rivers comes into a quarterback race at Illinois that remains wide-open, and he certainly made his case today, completing on several deep balls and also on quick slant routes to all manners of receivers during both QB/WR Drills, and full-team offense/defense drills.
If Rivers can continue to build and get comfortable in Rod Smith’s offense, he certainly has the talent and ability to make himself a top-tier choice for the Illinois offense behind apparent QB1 A.J. Bush.
Rivers, however, has a lot of competition for the QB position, and will have to fight with, and likely surpass, the player who is the focus of the next thing I saw.
Matt Robinson, now an Illini fan favorite, continued Tuesday to showcase his abilities and make his case. From the start, Robinson really caught my eye. In QB/Receiver drills, Robinson showed off his accurate arm, completing both deep-ball passes on streak routes to speedy receivers like Mike Dudek, to corner routes from TE Luis Dorsey.
Robinson has really impressed Illini fans as of late with his ability to throw the ball, but Robinson also showed his running ability, on one play in a later drill, evading the sack from a defensive lineman, and scrambling for a fifteen-yard gain, and could easily have had more. Robinson, to me, looks like the clear-cut QB2 for this team that showcases one of the deepest Illini QB rooms in recent years.
I was impressed with Robinson today, even though Bush and Rivers got most of the time with first string units. He’s shown out through camp and will look to continue fighting for the primary backup spot, or even the starting spot, should Bush suffer a setback.
The Defensive Line showed out, and took the day from Offensive Line. The Defensive Line was matched up once again against the Offensive Line in today’s practice, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. The defensive line (in real-time drills) often got into the line of scrimmage and frustrated the offensive unit, taking sacks and tackles-for-loss at a high rate. The young defensive line is certainly a bright spot going forward, especially with the addition of one of my favorite freshmen, Calvin Avery.
The Illini Special Team’s Unit continues to impress me. As someone who loves watching special team’s work, the Illini have a great, talented group of kickers (and returners) this year. Blake Hayes continues his development, as his foot power is unparalleled to any that I’ve seen don an Illini uniform in some time. Placekickers like and Caleb Griffin continue to impress with their consistency in the position, and Coach Ligashesky’s unit will hope to thrive behind a new offense under Rod Smith and the newly-implemented offense.
Also, it’s worth noting the Special Teams performance, especially Blake Hayes, even “wowed” a certain legendary News Gazette writer who covers Illinois sports.
The team’s depth of quality the best it’s been in some time. It’s been a while since I’ve been to an Illini practice or early-season training camp where I could visibly not keep my eyes on one specific player, due to the large amount of talent on the field.
This year’s recruiting class brought in not only a solid stable of skill players, but with it the Illini also added depth and young talent at most of the positions. From linebackers to offensive linemen, the team is stacked with young, untapped potential.
The team looks fresh and ready to go for the upcoming season, and the sheer intensity players like Bennet Williams, Mike Dudek, and A.J. Bush (amongst many others) have shown throughout the early-season training camp practices points to a much-acknowledged fact: very few positions are set in stone.
Overall, Lovie’s team this year features a lot of positional battles, which bodes well for an Illini team that has for so long lacked the depth of talent that this year’s roster appears to have. With an already-booming Class of 2019 coming in next year, the staff will look to build this year, and have a seasoned core of sophomores and juniors to add to the special incoming class.
Lovie Smith and the Illinois Fighting Illini Football staff received another commitment today out of what is quickly becoming a flowing pipeline for the coaching staff from Florida. The Illini staff gained the commitment of yet another prospect out of the Sunshine State in defensive end Seth Coleman, from Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Florida,.
Coleman announced his commitment to Illinois on Sunday the 29th, continuing recent recruiting success for Lovie and his assistants. Coleman confirmed his commitment to Illinois during his weekend visit to Champaign.
Coleman is definitely a “style-of-play” recruit for Lovie Smith and company. This group of Illini coaches likes to use quick, athletic defensive ends to get into the backfield and disrupt opposing offenses. Seth Coleman certainly fits this bill. Coming in around 6’5”, 200 lbs., the defensive end utilizes a wide range of skills and natural physical ability to find holes in opposing offensive lines.
With a good sense of timing, and a great ability to read the snap count and get ahead of the offensive line, Coleman’s highlights are full of him breaking through gaps in the line, and using his great physical ability and quick burst of speed off the line to get to opposing quarterbacks. He will likely be utilized as a 5-technique rusher on the edge, used to get straight to opposing quarterbacks.
Coleman also has a great frame for Lovie’s ideal physique for the position, with long arms and good strength to get through tight gaps, into offensive backfields.
Coleman also is a highly productive player for his school’s basketball team, which can easily be guessed as he has great reaction times, and his highlights show multiple pass break ups, wherein he uses his long arms and quick reflexes to swat or bat down passes.
Seth Coleman has thus far been a bit under-recruited when it comes to power-five schools, and Illinois became the first power-five team to offer him in June, via a phone call from Head Coach Lovie Smith himself. Coleman also currently holds offers from fifteen schools, including offers from South Florida, Florida Atlantic, Navy, Ohio, and other Division-I Programs.
He also has had reported interest from schools like Iowa State, Tennessee, and Michigan.
Coleman is the first defensive end, and the first player from Florida to commit to Illinois in the 2019 class, and with the staff hitting the state hard, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more follow in the coming months.
The Illini continue their recent recruiting successes, as Coleman joins a class of top-tier talents Isaiah Williams, Marquez Beason, and several others.
Nate Williamson is a journalism student at the University of Illinois, working for illiniscoops.com, as well as Last Word on NFL. He is also the Co-Founder of TheSportsGuysSite.com…
Stay tuned into this site for more articles from Nate and the rest of our Illini staff, and make sure to check back soon for more interviews, breakdowns, and discussion from the guys!
Illiniscoops’ Nate Williamson (@NateJWSports) recently got to talk to Illini Freshmen and Offensive Lineman Jordyn Slaughter (@Slaughter66_). He sat down to talk about what it has been like getting accustomed to living life as an Illinois football player. He also asked him to introduce himself to fans on a personal basis, and about the progress he has made during his time with the Illini so far. Check out the full interview below.
– What is your favorite NFL team?
- New England Patriots
– If you were going to play any other sport in college of your choosing, what would it be?
Now, for the real questions.
– Want to share a little bit about where you’re from, where you went to high school, and how long you’ve been playing football?
- Well i’m from East St.Louis, IL. For high school, I attended Althoff Catholic in Belleville, IL, and I’ve been playing football for almost 8 years now. –
– What would you say are the strongest elements of your game on the offensive line, and what do you bring to the team?
- I think the strongest elements of my game are my pass blocking skills, and also my intelligence on the field to react to situations.. The biggest thing i bring to the team would be my leadership skills, even though i’m only a freshman.
– What first turned you on to Illinois, and made you know you wanted to be an Illini? What was the big recruiting draw for you?
- There never was one specific thing that really made me an illini fan, I’ve just always been a fan of them. I never really realized i wanted to be an Illini until i received my first offer, and then I knew I wanted to play there. The biggest thing that made me want to come here was the atmosphere on game day, and the experience of the coaching staff.
– Are you enjoying campus?
- I’m loving campus now even though it’s not the school year and everyone isn’t here yet
– What are you looking forward to most in your first season as an Illinois football player?
- The biggest thing i’m looking forward to this year is to finally experience what it’s like to be an Illini, and suit up for game day.
– Are there any specific guys you’ve started to get close to and form a bond with already?
- I’m pretty close with everyone on the offensive line and in my class and a few older players but not that many.
– Now, Illini fans know that you’re coming off of an injury a bit ago, hows the rehabbing going for your shoulder, and how are you feeling?
- The rehab is coming along great.. I’m making gains in the weight room which is good and also i should be ready for summer camp next week when it starts
– If you could say one thing to Illinois football fans ahead of the coming season, right now, what would it be?
- To stay committed to our program through the good and the bad.
Nate Williamson is a journalism student at the University of Illinois, working for illiniscoops.com, as well as Last Word on NFL. He is also the Co-Founder of TheSportsGuysSite.com… Stay tuned into this site for more articles from Nate and the rest of our Illini staff, and make sure to check back soon for more interviews, breakdowns, and discussion from the guys!
University of Illinois football fans were ecstatic to hear about two new commitments for the 2019 class, regaining some traction on the recruiting trail heading in to a pivotal Summer stretch that eventually leads to Lovie Smith’s barbeque, a recruiting event held at the Illini coach’s home. The Illini recieved commitments from in-state Wide Receiver Fabian McCray, and Linebacker Camilo Eifler, a former top-150 recruit and Washington transfer.
In-state recruiting remains a top priority for this Illini staff. Lovie and Co. wrapped up the 2018 recruiting class this year gaining the signatures of 10 in-state prospects. Though the success may seem limited, in Smith’s first full recruiting cycle, the Illini established a foot well-planted in the major areas of the state.
The 2019 class is looking promising when it comes to in-state recruits, and that trend continued this week when the Illini received an commitment from wide receiver Fabian McCray on Monday night, adding another player who will graduate this upcoming school year from in-state powerhouse Chicago Phillips, where Lovie has been hitting hard for players like Joseph Thompson, an Illini commit, and Jahleel Billingsley, perhaps one of the biggest “wants” for Illini fans from the pool of in-state talent.
McCray is a 6’2″ 180-pound Wide Receiver, who has been ranked as high as Top 10 in the state for the class of 2019. McCray was a 2017 state champion with Chicago Phillips, and brings to the Illini a desire to win, a mentality that Illini fans, as well as the Illini staff, have desired for so long.
In 2017, he hauled in 43 passes for 621 yards and seven touchdowns. McCray will contribute to the Illini receiving core bringing in calm, reliable hands and good route running. He could turn out to be the steady, go-to receiving threat that Illinois Quarterbacks of the future will look for in
times where they need a reception in the clutch.
The Illini also have had a lot of luck in out of state recruiting. As you’ve seen and followed here on illiniscoops.com, the Illini have gained commitments from 4-star Bishop Dunne (Tx.) Cornerback Marquez Beason, as well as 4-star Trinity Catholic (Mo.) Quarterback Isaiah Williams. That trend continued as Coach Hardy Nickerson landed a recruit in Camilo Eifler, a former Top-150 recruit that will transfer in from the University of Washington.
Though he will sit this season due to transfer rules, Eifler will be a large contributor for the 2019 season and beyond. He fills a huge need a Middle Linebacker for the Illini. The Illini football program, home to great linebackers including Dick Butkus, have been looking for the latest field general to add to the Illini stat books.
Eifler (6’1″ 225 lb.), is a former four-star recruit who was named in the higher-end of the top 150 recruits many times in high school at Bishop O-Dowd in Oakland, California where he played under now-Illini coach Hardy Nickerson. He redshirted the 2016 season and played in all 13 games in 2017 — finishing with six tackles — before announcing his decision to leave the Huskies in mid-May.
Eifler will no doubt fill the Illini need at MLB, in addition to a likely-to-grow linebacker core for the team, and ends the drought of high-rated linebacker recruiting for the Illini in recent years. He will look to spend this year familiarizing himself with the defense, and then be a big contributor come 2019.
You can check out more about Fabian and Camilo here on Illiniscoops.com, and through the Illini Scoop Podcast. Check back soon for more!