When OT Gabe Megginson verbally committed to the Fighting Illini last Friday night, we all got pretty excited. And understandably so. It's felt like damn near forever since a hoss like Megginson actually chose to stay in-state and play for the Illini instead of going to Wisconsin or Iowa or Notre Dame. Gabe changed all that. He's currently the crown jewel of the class which is pretty nice. If he remains the top recruit, I wouldn't even be mad.
But it's starting to feel like this might be the start of that sea change we've always been waiting on. Look back at how the coaching staffs have done over the past five seasons when it comes to recruiting the Land of Lincoln. It's not pretty.
In 2010, only one of the top 15 recruits from Illinois chose the Illini. Chandler Whitmer was the number six recruit according to 24/7's aggregate ratings. Whitmer wound up transferring away, so we can basically call 2010 a complete whiff.
2011 didn't go much better. The only top 15 recruit the Illini landed was DT Clint Tucker, another player no longer on the roster. He was ranked 13th (Matt LaCosse was 16th and Reilly O'Toole was 20th). This is a troubling pattern.
DT Vontrell Williams is the sole top 15er in 2012 and the first player mentioned to have actually stuck with the team, until he was booted from the team this winter (though the 9th ranked recruit would eventually transfer back home to us). Williams was ranked 15th. Iowa managed to poach four top 15 recruits from Illinois that year. Four.
2013 marks the first win for the Illini in this aspect, as QB Aaron Bailey (5th) and DB Darius Mosely (12th) both chose the orange and blue.
But then 2014 rolled along and no player in even the top 20 chose Illinois. That's officially a nadir.
So why am I giddy and excited about 2015 already, even though the Illini only have three commits? Because those three commits are in the top ten for the state. Yes, rankings will likely change as the players go through their senior years, but look at that! Megginson is 4th. RB Dre Brown is ranked 6th. QB Jimmy Fitzgerald is 10th.
And there's still the chance we add more! Smoke has TE David Edwards (5th) choosing the Illini. WR Flynn Nagel (8th) has been linked to the team for as long as we can remember. C Brennan Bosch (13th) has favored Illinois. It's only a matter of time before S Patrick Nelson (14th) gets an offer. And if we're going to dream big, Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit still have a chance at convincing WR Miles Boykin (2nd) to move south from the suburbs.
I'm not saying we'll land all those players, but can you imagine how much of a coup that would be? Eight of the top fifteen players from Illinois all choosing to stay home? That's how you build a program. That's what I want.