Last Friday, I took a look at what ultimately became of the 2010 recruiting Illinois football recruiting class. The picture that was ultimately painted was not a pleasant one. That class was supposed to be the backbone of the last two seasons' teams. As we saw, it wasn't a particularly strong backbone.
On signing day, the class of 2011 looked relatively good. Despite only initially coming in at 8th in the Big Ten, it ranked 38th in the nation. That old Zook magic was back! This class would surely make up for the down recruiting year that was 2010 and ultimately help save Ron's job.
Obviously that didn't happen. So what happened to the 28 young men who became Fighting Illini that day?
1- TE Jon Davis. Davis will be entering his senior season with the Illini this fall. It's nice to actually be able to say that about the top recruit in the class. The offense has never utilized the 6-3 TE particularly well, though he did set a career high with 244 total yards and two TDs. We'll see if the addition of QB Wes Lunt could mean big things for Davis' senior year.
2- CB Dondi Kirby. Kirby failed to qualify academically and never suited up for Illinois. Kirby would go on to play JUCO ball at the ASA Institute in Brooklyn, NY before transferring to Temple.
3- DT Clint Tucker. Tucker was yet another recruit who would never play at Illinois due to academic issues. Zook seemed to have a knack for signing such athletes. Tucker ultimately wound up at Eastern Arizona College, a JUCO. So we've already lost the two men who were supposed to be leading the line and the secondary this season.
4- DE Darrius Caldwell. Out of all the losses on this list, Caldwell's hurts the most. Darrius played for the team as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and played well, racking up 5 TFL and 2.5 sacks. Things were looking pretty good until he was thrown off the team for unspecified rules violations at the same time as WR Darius Millines. Caldwell will be playing for Arizona State this fall.
5- QB Matt LaCosse. That's right, big Matt LaCosse was initially a pro-style QB before being converted over to TE. Which makes a ton of sense. There was a glut of QBs on the roster and LaCosse is 6-6. LaCosse didn't do much until last season, when he caught 20 passes for 237 yards and 3 TDs. He's a favorite target in the red zone and should continue to be this fall.
6- QB Reilly O'Toole. Reilly O'Toole's career makes me sad. There's no reason he shouldn't have been redshirted in 2011, and yet, he was not. So instead of having a year to learn the offense at a smart pace, he was thrown into the fire. His confidence never seemed to fully recover and he's remained a backup his entire career. That's not likely to change.
7- OT Pat Flavin. Flavin comes into 2014 as a redshirt junior. He'll be backup tackle.
8- DT Chris Jones. Jones was charged with aggravated assault that may have been a hate crime his first summer in Champaign. He was removed from the team quickly after that.
9- OG Chris Boles. Boles also remains with the team as a redshirt junior. The offensive line may not be great, but it at least has a semblance of depth. Chris will continue to backup at guard.
10- S Zeph Grimes. Grimes is the backup STAR to Earnest Thomas III.
11- C Tony Durkin. Durkin is currently the backup center.
12- OT Scott McDowell. Along with Flavin, McDowell is the other backup offensive tackle.
13- RB Donovonn Young. Young was supposed to be the premier back in the lineup, being powerful enough to take the lead reins. Injuries and fumbles have lessened his star, but he's still a decent enough backup to ...
14- RB Josh Ferguson. The JCA product blew up last season, his first with new OC Bill Cubit. Ferguson recorded 1,314 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Expect big things out of the RS junior this season.
15- DE Chris O'Connor. Redshirted and then switched over to offensive line. Currently a backup guard.
16- WR Jeremy Whitlow. Special teams player, buried on the depth chart at WR.
17- TE Daniel Rhodes. After experiencing a delayed enrollment, was ultimately booted from the team before ever playing.
18- OT Willie Beavers. Illinois tried signing too many players and Beavers was the casualty. He transferred to Western Michigan and played more snaps last fall than any other Bronco.
19- ILB Ralph Cooper. Backup linebacker the past three years. May actually be the starter on the weak side this fall.
20- S Nick North. Special teams player, ultimately buried on the depth chart at DB.
21- OLB Henry Dickinson. Basically copy+paste what I wrote for North, but change DB to LB.
22- WR- Jordan Frysinger. Frysinger wound up on trial for four felony sex charges. While he was acquitted, he was removed from the team. He'll be getting a second chance at Idaho with former OC Paul Petrino.
23- DE Kenny Nelson. Backup defensive lineman buried on the depth chart.
24- ATH Valdon Cooper. Made into a defensive back. Transferred away to Georgia Southern.
25- K Justin DuVernois. Developed into a fairly reliable punter. Senior this fall.
26- CB Eaton Spence. Redshirt junior who will be one of the starting cornerbacks this fall.
27- OG Ted Karras. Redshirt junior who will likely be the starting right guard this fall.
28- WR Kenny Knight. Special teamer, buried on the depth charts.
While the 2011 class didn't turn out to be the disaster the 2010 class was, it still didn't turn out like it should have. Four of the top eight recruits were booted from the team due to academic or disciplinary issues. You cannot survive two recruiting classes of losing that many of your top recruits, and that's ultimately what happened. If not for lesser-heralded recruits like Ferguson, Spence, and Karras, this recruiting class is little more than backups and two tight ends.