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National Signing Day Preview: The Football Freshmen

The coaching staff looks excited for this freshman class. Will the fans share that same enthusiasm? We should certainly try!

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day is tomorrow! Woo hoo!

Who is constantly checking the recruiting sites and message boards to see what 4/5 star recruit is going to make his pledge to the Illini at the last second? Or drool over every signed letter of intent that is received? Anyone? Bueller...?

Okay, that's a bit harsh. I apologize. I know many of the die hards and blow hard fans out there still get those jitters on the eve of signing day. The Zooker brought that excitement back for me in his early years as the head coach.

Juice Williams? Arrelious Benn? Martez Wilson? D'Angelo McCray? Josh Brent? So what if they all didn't pan out. I couldn't get enough. I had a glaring sense of pride watching these guys pick Illinois over the blue bloods of college football as I sure every other Illinois fan did as well. Seeing players of that caliber sign with the Illini made football recruiting fun. Heck, I could make the argument that football recruiting was more fun than basketball recruiting during those years.

That's just not the case anymore. This year's class is ranked near the bottom or dead last in the Big Ten by just about every publication out there. Not easy easy to get excited about. Not a lot of fun to be had.

I'm not knocking coach Beckman and staff. They are working tirelessly to turn this ship around, especially, in the JUCO ranks and with transfer, Wes Lunt. And, yes, a lot of this has to do with the current product on the field. Hey, Illinois did win a B1G game last year. Improvement! They also return a lot of experience, so things are, hopefully, trending up.

Regardless of our thoughts on the coaching staff, recruiting, or the team in general, there is a group of great young men ready to join the Illini and work their tails off to put this team back on the map.

Let's hope this is the foundation that brings that excitement and buzz back to football recruiting.

I'll briefly take a look at all twelve. Here they are:

Early Enrollees

Chayce Crouch: 6-foot-4, 215 lbs, Newark Catholic, Newark, Ohio

Scout: 3-star QB

Rivals: 3-star QB

247Sports: 3-star QB

We beat out three MAC schools for Chayce's services.

Chayce is the prototypical pro-style quarterback that thrives in a Bill Cubit offense. He fits the trend of QBs Cubit coached up at Western Michigan. He's tall. He has a strong arm. He's a pretty good athlete. With two 4-star sophomores and a senior that's seen playing time ahead of him, I'd expect a red-shirt year for Mr. Crouch.

Mike Dudek: 5-foot-11, 176 lbs, Neuqua Valley, Naperville, Illinois

Scout: 3-star WR

Rivals: 3-star WR

247Sports: 3-star WR

I'll say that Wisconsin, Arizona, and Colorado were interested but didn't offer Mike. Beckman got him, though.

Mike is fast, has a knack for making plays, and will eventually play a role as a slot receiver. Think of a smaller but faster version of Steve Hull (Steve Hull!). This video gives you an idea of his speed and ball skills.

Peter Cvijanovic: 6-foot-5, 285 lbs, Benedictine, Cleveland, Ohio and East Coast Prep, Great Barrington, Mass.

Scout: 2-star OT

Rivals: 3-star OT

247Sports: 2-star OT

According to the three recruiting sites above, Peter had no other offers. Hard to believe, but he's an Illini legacy.

You can't teach size, and Peter has it. Offensive lineman almost always red-shirt then wait their turn while gaining strength and learning technique. Illini fans should be happy if Peter has a career anything like his brother Simon.

(Unfortunately, no available video on Peter.)

Paul James III: 6-foot-3, 240 lbs, Norland Senior, Miami, Florida

Scout: 3-star DE

Rivals: 3-star DE

247Sports: 3-star DE

Beckman and staff waited until the last minute to get a commitment from Paul over Tennessee and West Virginia

Originally a late addition to the 2013 class, Paul had to delay enrolling until this January. We should all be grateful that he kept his commitment to the Illini as he has the potential to be a good one. With how terrible the defensive line was last year, it's hard not to see him crack the rotation at some point. He is still a bit raw, but the early enrollment should help his progression.


Nick Allegretti: 6-foot-4, 280 lbs, Lincoln Way East, Frankfurt, Illinois

Scout: 3-star C

Rivals: 3-star C

247Sports: 3-star C

Mr. Allegretti chose the Illini over Cincinnati and a hand full of MAC schools.

Nick has climbed the rankings recently and is the highest rated position player in the class as he will come to the Illini as the number eight center in the country according to Scout and Rivals. Alex Hill returns as the starter at center with decent depth behind him. Unless Allegretti has a miraculous camp, expect him to red-shirt.

Nick Allegretti - Center (via VarsityTape)

Matt Domer: 6 foot, 188 lbs, Mt. Carmel, Chicago, Illinois

Scout: 3-star RB

Rivals: 3-star RB

247Sports: 3-star RB

Domer had nice offers from Boston College, Cincinnati, Indiana, Northern Illinois, and Syracuse, but he decided he'd like to run the ball for Illinois.

It's always nice to land a prospect from one of the premiere high school programs in the state, and Domer is a very good player. RB is by far Bill Cubit's position of most depth now that Dami Ayoola has returned.  Matt will most likely red-shirt, but expect him to play a big part as early as the 2015 season.

Malik Turner: 6-foot-2, 180 lbs, Sacred Heart Griffin, Springfield, Illinois

Scout: 3-star WR

Rivlas: 3 -star WR

247Sports: 3-star WR

Malik had interest from Northwestern and Michigan St., but he committed to his only B1G offer - Illinois.

Malik is another top prospect from a prominent state high school program. We lose a lot of WR depth from last year, so there is opportunity for playing time. Malik has some size and a lot of speed, so he should battle with the talented JUCOs for some playing time. I'd give him the nod over Mike Dudek right now as the freshmen WR with the best chance to see the field next year.

Tito Odenigbo: 6-foot-3, 241 lbs, Centerville, Centerville, Ohio

Scout: 3-star DT

Rivals: 3-star DE

247Sports: 3-star DT

Once again, Beckman and staff out recruited a number of MAC schools for Tito's commitment.

Tito can play on the inside and the outside of the defensive line. His diversity and quickness off the ball should give Tim Banks reason to include him somewhere on the depth chart. Tito provides more talent and another body to the porous defensive line.

Julian Hylton: 6-foot-1, 190 lbs, Lincoln-Way North, Frankfurt, Illinois

Scout: 2-star CB

Rivals: 3-star ATH

247Sports: 3-star RB

The Illini beat out Army and Northern Illinois for Julian's commitent.

Julian is the fastest incoming freshmen. He's a burner. Beckman and Banks recruited him as a CB, and that's where he'll start his career. If he doesn't redshirt, Julian should see time on special teams.

Henry McGrew: 6-foot-3, 237 lbs, Blue Valley, Stilwell, Kansas

Scout: 2-star LB

Rivals: 2-star LB

247Sports: 2-star LB

Iowa State and Kansas offered Henry, but Beckman was able to pull him away.

As I mentioned, we needed to add LB depth in this class. Mr. McGrew will need time to add strength, but has the instincts and potential to battle for a starting position in the future. Again, expect to see him on special teams early in his Illini career.

Tre Watson: 6-foot-2, 230 lbs, Tampa Catholic, Tampa, Florida

Scout: 2-star LB

Rivals: 2-star LB

247Sports: 3-star LB

Tre had nice offers from South Florida and UCF, but decided to leave the sunshine state and head to Illinois.

Tre is another depth filler in the class at LB. He brings great energy and tackling ability. He too has potential to become a player on this defense. Just like Henry McGrew, though, expect to see him on special teams during his early Illinois days.

Austin Roberts: 6-foot-3, 226 lbs, Rice Lake, Rice Lake, Wisconsin

Scout: 2-star LB

Rivals: 2-star LB

247Sports: 3-star LB

Austin had offers from a number of smaller schools. Wisconsin did not offer, so Illinois won his commitment.

We round out the freshmen commitment list with more linebacker depth. Austin is a smart player that is extremely strong. Of the three LBs on the list, I think he has a chance to see the field the earliest.

We'll see what happens with this crop. Any one of them could become a breakout player or a regular starter. Let's hope they make a positive difference in the win column, though, and top rated recruits start taking notice.

I just want to have fun again.

Cue the Beach Boys, or Cyndi Lauper, or that band with a period at the end of their name...

G - O, Illini GO!