This Saturday is Junior Day for Illinois, which means 2015 football prospects from throughout the Midwest are traveling to Champaign.
These events drum up program interest and typically take place soon after the mandatory dead period in football recruiting, which prevents communication between coaches and players from December 16th to January 15th. After that, coaches are free to go back to stalking kids to the ends of the Earth in the hopes that they'll attend their university.
So, what does this mean for the Illini? Coach Beckman and crew have sent out invitations to a few handfuls of recruits with whom they'd like to interact in person. For these recruits, Junior Day essentially serves as an unoffical visit, where they can meet position coaches and other highly-regarded prospects.
Due to the ease of communication that social media offers, recruiting is becoming increasingly more like a group activity. Plenty of high-level players are friends across the country, and it seems to be more common now for top prospects to commit in package deals. This makes a Junior Day extremely important. I wouldn't expect any commitments to be made this weekend, but the relationships forged could greatly affect recruiting down the line.
247Sports compiled a nice list of all the prospects who will be in Champaign this weekend. These guys won't be in college for a little while, but it's important to get started early in recruiting (especially if you're Illinois, a program that has been struggling lately).
Here are a few whose names you may want to remember:
Josh Barajas - MLB - 6-foot-3, 210 lbs - Merrillville, Indiana
Barajas has offers from both Purdue and Illinois, while Michigan St. is reported to have some interest as well. Watching his film, Barajas seems to play all over the field. He slots mainly at linebacker and has also submitted some tape at tight end and strong safety. One Purdue insider has already predicted Barajas to Purdue, but it seems far too early in his recruitment to make a definitive statement. Illinois is always looking to continue their tradition of great linebackers, and Barajas could be one of them. With no disrespect intended toward the other fine recruits, my favorite film came from Barajas. It never got old watching him dart through the line for a tackle-for-loss.
Quinn Oseland - OT - 6-foot-6 310 lbs - Springfield, Illinois
With the campus relatively close to home, Oseland has already had a ton of contact with Illinois. He attended last year's Junior Day as well as two games of this season, Cincinnati (yay!) and Wisconsin (meh.). Shortly after the Wisconsin game, Oseland received his scholarship offer and an invitation to this year's Junior Day. Oseland earned an honorable mention in a 247Sports article detailing the best 2015 prospects who worked out at the 2014 Army All-American game. Oseland will also be attending Wisconsin's Junior Day on February 1st.
Cole Kotopka - QB - 6-foot-5, 230 lbs - Plainfield, Illinois
This seems just like the type of quarterback Bill Cubit would love to have running his offense. At that size, one might assume that Kotopka is strictly a pocket passer in the mold of Tom Brady. This is entirely untrue; Kotopka can be seen in his highlight video evading the rush, scrambling, and running designed plays pretty effectively. He's certainly mobile, but still has a nice arm. I also noticed that he has really nice patience in the pocket. He waits for plays to develop and didn't seem to panic when faced with pressure. Plus, he already likes us!
The fans are unbelievable from Illinois. Havent even gone down yet and already making me feel welcome 👌 #Illini— Cole Kotopka (@leavemehalonee) January 16, 2014
247Sports Illinois Insider Derek Piper spoke with Kotopka about the upcoming Junior Day, and it quickly became apparent that the Illini have a man on the inside:
Pssst. Aaron. Nice work, keep it up. Kotopka could be the best quarterback in the state, and Illinois would be both lucky and happy to have him.
As mentioned previously, there are still quite a few more prospects visiting this weekend who could really help the Illini. Once again the link to the 247Sports thread with the rest of the attending recruits is here. We'll keep you updated on any potential commitments that could occur this weekend and the reactions of some of the prospects after their visit. Cross your fingers!