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Bret Bielema and Illinois just landed a solid 2024 class on Signing Day

What can this class do for BIelema and Co.?

The Champaign Room // Jack Jungmann

Wednesday, the paranoia was laid to rest.

There are expected to be no big surprises and no major flips.

You can follow along if anything changes on Illini Football’s X page, where they’re posting videos like this:

There was plenty of work done to make this class come to fruition. Because of the success of recruiting in the 2023 cycle, Bret Bielema and his staff were able to focus on high-priority targets early. They were well-positioned to gain verbal commitments following massive on-campus official visit weekends.

So who is coming and how will they impact the roster? Let’s dig in position-by-position.

(Please note this column only refers to prep prospects, not transfers or Junior College players. Also, ratings are based on 247Sports.)

Overall Impression

This class isn’t the superstar-laden class that Purdue or Wisconsin was able to bring in with their rising second-year coaches. But it is a true-to-brand class for the Illini. Whether you’re a fan or detractor of this approach, the Illini recruited to type and will seek to coach up a class full of solid evaluations.

Quarterback

Signee: Trey Petty, Starkville, MS, #46 Quarterback, #754 Overall

Early Enrollee - Yes

The Champaign Room // Brad Repplinger

Petty was targeted early by Barry Lunney Jr. He’s a twitchy-if-undersized athlete who projects as a true dual threat in the Temppro system. At Starkville, Petty began his high school career backing up current presumed Illinois starting quarterback Luke Altmyer. Petty is expected to redshirt as a freshman. But he gives tantalizing upside to a quarterback room that is losing a charismatic grad transfer cult hero for the second consecutive year.

Illinois had to hold off Mississippi and Petty’s hometown Mississippi State. Petty is an exciting quarterback prospect who could take the reigns from Altmyer in a few years. Again.

Running Back

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Iowa at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Signee: Ca’Lil Valentine, Chandler, AZ, #44 Running Back, #396 Overall

Early Enrollee - No

Valentine was considered the biggest “get” for the majority of this recruiting cycle. The dynamic back from the Phoenix area has a devastating combination of speed and agility. He moonlights as a track star, which makes him the perfect long-term lightning to pair with the thunderous Kaden Feagin in a potentially lethal Illini backfield.

Thad Ward’s return to the recruiting trail for the Illini was a smashing success with the addition of Valentine. The Phoenix area isn’t typically a fertile territory for the Illini. But with OLB coach Charlie Bullen having been on the Arizona Cardinals’ staff, regional doors have been open to the talent-rich valley of the sun. With western teams joining the Big Ten, opening doors to the southwest could be a key to Illinois becoming a national recruiting power.

Valentine could make an immediate contribution like Feagin did this past season. The departure of Reggie Love opens up a massive opportunity for the game-breaking newbie.

Wide Receiver

Signees:

Carlos Orr, Gatlinburg, TN, #72 Wide Receiver, #812 Overall.

Early Enrollee: No.

Tysean Griffin, Chicago, IL, #51 Athlete, #509 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

The Champaign Room // Jack Jungmann

Coach George McDonald has been on a recruiting tear since returning to his alma mater. The departures of Casey Washington, Shawn Miller, and all-conference superstar Isaiah Williams will undoubtedly leave holes in the room. But the emergence of Ashton Hollins and return of Pat Bryant will help pad the blow. Returnees Hank Beatty, Malik Elzy, and Kenari Wilcher should be set to make a bigger impact this year.

But the Illini still added two key pieces to the WR room in their 2024 class. Carlos Orr is a long, physical receiver who adds another potential red zone threat. Orr is physically similar to Eian Pugh and Ashton Hollins, so he’ll need to add strength to be competitive in the changing Big Ten. The good news is that he will have time to develop behind McDonald’s previous receiver signings.

Illinois prioritizes length in receivers. The staff has also placed a premium on speedy, shifty receivers who can make opponents miss in space. Yes, Isaiah Williams is the prototype of this receiver model. And Chicago Morgan Park speedster Tysean Griffin is a similar physical profile to Williams.

While Griffin is slight, he is dynamic with the ball in his hands. He projects as a versatile playmaker who can hit home runs out of the slot. He is the potential underneath counterpart to Kenari Wilcher’s “blow the top off the defense” deep threat. While Illinois was Orr’s first Power Five offer, landing Griffin was a fight for a no-doubt P5 prospect. His commitment was a big deal to a program that draws its lifeblood from in-state recruiting.

Tight End

Signee: Tanner Hollinger, Stromsburg, NE, #73 Tight End, #1806 Overall

Early Enrollee: No

This group had two commits prior to Pinckneyville tight end Karsen Konkel decommitting. But now, Hollinger stands alone in the Illini’s 2024 class. The Nebraska native was an early but quality evaluation for Robby Discher and the Illini.

Will his experience in a smaller conference in Nebraska translate? His 6’5 230+ pound frame certainly does. He projects as a solid pass-catching threat. The Illini need help in the tight end room after Tip Reiman’s departure and the ineffective play of Tanner Arkin. While Henry Boyer projects as a superstar blocker with the athleticism to become a good receiver, Illinois needs a threat like they had with Daniel Barker.

Offensive Line

The Champaign Room // Jack Jungmann

Signees: Andrew Dennis (IOL), Mt. Pleasant, MI, #7 IOL, #169 Overall

Early Enrolle: Yes

Zafir Stewart (IOL), Philadelphia, PA, # 101 IOL, #1058 Overall

Early Enrollee: No

Brandon Hansen (OT), Mundelein, IL, #104 OT, #1551 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

Andrew Dennis is quite simply the headliner of Illinois’ 2024 class. He is the highest-ranked prep recruit of the Bret Bielema era. The former Michigan State commit a potential anchor piece on the interior. He represents a major win for Bart Miller. He is the manifestation of Bret Bielema’s sell to offensive linemen. He’s a no-doubt early contributor who chose Illinois over programs like Clemson and Penn State.

Zafir Stewart is a massive human who projects as a guard. The Philly native will bring an impressive physical presence to Champaign. Illinois won this recruitment over programs like Rutgers, West Virginia, and Penn State. The tough, aggressive interior blocker will provide competition on the offensive line upon his arrival in June.

Brandon Hansen was the first commit of the class of 2024. The Mundelein native is known for his prowess as a pass blocker. As his run-blocking evolves, he could find himself moving up the depth chart of an Illini team in need of true offensive tackle talent. Perhaps there could be a Brandon Hansen/Brandon Henderson bookend duo protecting Trey Petty on the next great Illini team.

Offensive Line or Defensive Line Super Prospect

Signee: Eddie Tuerk, LaGrange, IL, #81 “DL,” #550 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

In an alternate timeline, Eddie Tuerk would be the headliner of this class. He’s exactly the kind of in-state talent that Bret Bielema needs to keep in-state. Illinois beat Northwestern and Miami for Tuerk’s services.

It has yet to be determined where he will play. But Coach Jamison and Coach Miller will likely fight this one out pretty intensely. Tuerk is an athletic two-way lineman with the rare ability to be an impact player on either side of the ball. Landing him was a major moment for an Illini program who has been watching players like Tuerk go to Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame for far too long.

Once he finds his spot, it would not be surprising to see Tuerk crack the rotation as an underclassman.

Defensive Line

Signees: Josaiah Knight (Edge), Havana, FL, #49 Edge, #722 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

Demetrius John (DL), Dublin, OH , #97DL, #833 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

Angelo McCullom (DL), Lewis Center, OH #132 DL, #1255 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

Joe Barna (Edge), Wheaton, IL, #136 DL, #1280 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

The Champaign Room

Josaiah Knight has a chance to be the most special player in this class for Illinois. He played for former Illini Russell Ellington in high school. He brings length, athleticism, and a relentless motor that Charlie Bullen seems to covet in edge rusher prospects. Knight joins a deep, talented group at just the right time. Gabe Jacas may be moving inside, and an influx of youth over the past two recruiting cycles could make this one of the strongest position groups on the roster.

The Champaign Room // Jack Jungmann

Demetrius John was a big recruiting win and hold for Terrance Jamison and the Illini. He received multiple Power Five offers after his Illinois commitment, but he never wavered. John has the potential to make an impact at Illinois. He is a raw but physically gifted prospect with the size and length Illinois seeks in defensive line prospects.

Angelo McCullom’s second Power Five offer was Illinois. But they weren’t his last. Indiana tried to get in on his recruitment late, but the future early enrollee maintained his commitment to the Illini. He is a versatile future piece that will undoubtedly need to put on more size to play in the trenches in the Big Ten.

Joe Barna, much like Pat Farrell in last year’s class, projected as an edge throughout his career. With his frame, it’s not out of the question that he winds up playing with his hand in the dirt. The Wheaton prospect, much like Eddie Tuerk, is the kind of prospect who often goes to Iowa and becomes a star. Barna is another win in a Power Five battle for Illinois, who defeated Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Kansas among others.

Linebacker

Signee: Easton Baket, Tooele, UT, #110 LB, #1280 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

The Champaign Room // Jack Jungmann

Andy Buh has been a tremendous recruiter and coach for the Illini. His experience as a defensive coordinator has been helpful in the post-Ryan Walters transition of Aaron Henry. He has opened recruiting doors in New Jersey and California. He has restocked the LB room with young, energetic talent like James Kreutz. Baker also projects to be an immediate fan favorite in Champaign.

And of all of the Illini 2024 signees, Easton Baker might have the most exciting highlight reel. He is a human missile capable of ruining an opponent’s day with a vicious hit. He looks like a potential immediate special teams contributor for the Illini. Robby Discher will likely have multiple innovative ways to utilize Baker’s unique set of skills in kick coverage.

Secondary

Signees: Amar Reynolds, Vero Beach, FL, #137 CB, #1555 Overall

Early Enrollee: Yes

Vernon Woodward, Winter Park, FL, #70 CB, #904 Overall

The Champaign Room

Illinois has a lot of youth and talent in the secondary. In this class, Illinois added speed and length from the state of Florida at the cornerback position.

Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

Amar Reynolds is a wiry corner with good ball skills. Illinois beat Indiana among other schools for Reynolds’ commitment. He is a physical presence on the perimeter. I believe this staff has had success with other players with that particular profile.

Wisconsin flip Vernon Woodward is another potential star from this class. Much like Zachary Tobe and Saboor Karriem, Woodward has a legitimate chance to play occasionally as a true freshman. He has a similar physical profile to Reynolds, but is more technically polished. The Illini played a lot of zone this past season because their secondary struggled in man coverage. Woodward has potential to go out on an island and shut stars down.