This past year was a rough one for us Illini fans. There’s no other way to say it.
Both revenue programs experienced their first season of newly rebuilt rosters and leaned heavily on freshmen. The results were to be expected: 2-10 in football and 14-18 in basketball. Four conference wins between both teams.
When I try to look back at the good times from the past athletics season, I struggle to find anything meaningful. The only option is to look beyond the misery of the foreground and try to find signs of hope for the future. One of the biggest signs showed up on March 23, 2018.
In a move that made shock waves around the college football world, 5-star Trinity Catholic quarterback Isaiah Williams chose to verbally commit to the Illini. And with any luck, it’s a day that Illini fans will look back to as a turning point in the direction of the program.
The previous staff never lured a single 5-star athlete to Champaign, and Illinois fans have to look back to the headliners of the loaded 2007 class — Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson — to find the last time the Illini earned a commitment from a 5-star football recruit. In short, this coup was no small feat that Cory Patterson, Rod Smith and Lovie Smith pulled off.
It’s difficult to understate the importance of having a 5-star athlete on the roster. The rest of the 2019 recruiting class will likely be sold on the chance to play alongside Williams. Although recruited as a quarterback, Williams has the athleticism to be an elite playmaker at receiver or running back if the staff decides to play him at one (or both) of those positions.
The coaching staff will still need to show Williams love between now and signing day to keep away his other suitors, but if they can, then the future of the entire program will look much brighter. And it all started in the midst of one of the darkest eras in modern Illini athletics history.