clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Five Illinois football recruiting storylines to follow this weekend

With many campus visits this week, what can fans look forward to?

Illinois v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

On Friday, June 23, the Fighting Illini football program will host another slate of official visitors. If this visit weekend goes as well as the first official visit weekend in June, Illinois will likely have as much as 60% of its 2024 verbal commits in the fold.

The staff has attacked important areas, both positionally and geographically. The sell is simple: we know who we are and what we do, so what the hell are you waiting for? Jump on board and get your spot on the Illinois team that breaks through the glass ceiling for real.

Head coach Bret Bielema has brought program CEO vibes that resonate on the trail and have already borne fruit on the field. So what’s on the horizon? Let’s dive into five stories to follow in the coming days and weeks.

Is this the year Illinois finally bags the elephant?

Illinois has upped the recruiting floor under the Bielema regime. The Illini have won Power Five battles for players like Malik Elzy, Eian Pugh, Kaden Feagin, Jared Badie, Collin Dixon, and Saboor Karriem. These long-term pieces create a solid foundation for the next several years.

But when does Illinois football get its nationally-renowned superstar?

ReliaQuest Bowl - Mississippi State v Illinois Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

When Lovie Smith’s staff signed Isaiah Williams and Marquez Beason, it represented Illinois’ arrival on the national stage. That recruiting momentum died rapidly, but the best programs in the nation highly sought after both prospects. Illinois hasn’t been able to land a recruit with that kind of buzz since then.

Consensus five-star defensive lineman Justin Scott from Chicago St. Ignatius eliminated the Illini early in his process.

Enter Chicago Kenwood edge rusher Marquise Lightfoot. The top-150 CPL defender is taking an official visit to Champaign, as Jeremy Werner of 247Sports reported. Even getting him on campus is a massive get for the staff.

He’s a long shot. Illinois is competing against USC, Ohio State, Miami and Alabama, among dozens of other programs. But they are shooting their shot to land a top player. Illinois being involved in this recruitment brings to mind another question.

Are we witnessing the emergence of Charlie Bullen, Ace Recruiter?

Here we go again, right? A head coach hiring an ex-NFL coach with no college coaching experience and then sending him out on the recruiting trail. The Lovie years are littered with these stories.

But this version may have a pleasant ending.

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Charlie Bullen has been a major factor on the recruiting trail. He can sell his experience coaching elite edge rushers like Chandler Jones and Haason Reddick. But is that enough to close on top talent?

He’s certainly gotten Illinois into a recruitment it appeared on the periphery of a few short months ago. Bullen’s force of will has been a significant presence for an Illini squad that lost Kevin Kane and Cory Patterson. Even if he doesn’t land Lightfoot, Illinois seems squarely in the battle for Wheaton edge rusher Joe Barna, who is scheduled to begin his official visit on June 23.

Bullen’s ability to continue to grow a position group headlined by Gabe Jacas and Seth Coleman looms large in continuing the defense’s elite trajectory.

Who brings the lightning to the next generation of Illini running backs?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Purdue at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There is a Chase Brown-sized hole in the Illinois backfield this season. It can’t be underscored enough how much of a legend he became over the past two seasons.

Hyperbole aside, Illinois has a stable of big, potentially impactful backs including Josh McCray, freshman star Kaden Feagin, Reggie Love, and my pick to click to excel this season Jordan Anderson.

Guaranteed future fan favorite Aiden Laughery brings track-star speed to the backfield, but Illinois could use another quick back.

They recently hosted Chicago Mount Carmel speedster Darrion Dupree. Wisconsin has long been viewed as the favorite in this recruitment, but the Badgers just got a commitment from three-star back Gideon Ituka. Will this impact Luke Fickell’s pursuit of Dupree?

Ca’lil Valentine, a four-star burner from Arizona, is scheduled to take an official visit to Champaign on June 23. Either he or Dupree would be a great get for Thad Ward’s group. Either way, expect the ground and pound Illini to continue upgrading the rushing attack.

What does Devon Witherspoon mean on the recruiting trail in the Sunshine State?

2023 NFL Draft - Portraits Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

During the massive campus visit weekend of June 23-25, Illinois is hosting multiple defensive backs from Florida.

Florida has been very, very good to the Illini secondary over the years.

But Devon Witherspoon being drafted fifth overall by the Seattle Seahawks could be a huge selling point for future Florida defensive backs. Kerby Joseph becoming an impact player in Detroit underscores the point, since both were underrated, underrecruited prospects who got coached up into potentially tens of millions of dollars in the NFL.

The reliance on transfers for this season’s secondary underscores the long-term need.

So which Florida defensive back is going to be the next to jump on board at DBU after this weekend?

That was a trick question. I’m predicting multiple commitments. The real questions are how many and how soon?

Who is Illinois’ next pass-catching tight end?

Purdue v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

So Illinois went into the transfer portal and got Tanner Arkin from Colorado State.

There is some buzz (via 247) that veteran Griffin Moore has made great strides as a receiver and should see some rotation time. The former quarterback would bring a cerebral element to the position that would be key in the red zone.

Henry Boyer appears to be ready to make major contributions as a blocker. I would love to be a fly on the wall of any one-on-one battles between him and Gabe Jacas in practice. Those are a pair of “win the game the second you step off the bus” guys.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 ReliaQuest Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Naivyan Cargill entered the transfer portal.

Owen Anderson is a talented but unproven receiver.

And redshirt-junior Tip Reiman continues to be a solid roster piece who continues to evolve every day but leaves some to be desired in the pass-catching department.

So recruiting the tight end position is especially important with all of the questions on the current roster.

Pinckneyville prospect Karsen Konkel appears to be a sought-after Power Five prospect with whom Illinois is deeply involved. He is the kind of in-state prospect that the previous regime ignored.

Two-star Nebraska tight end Tanner Hollinger is also scheduled for a June 23 official visit. Illinois is his first Power Five offer, so perhaps this is another under-the-radar scouting play that will pay off long-term.

Coach Bielema has a great sell to tight ends with his track record of sending guys like AJ Derby and Hunter Henry to the NFL. The tight end has multiple points of major impact in Barry Lunney’s offense.

However the need is filled, figuring out the future of the position is a major priority for this recruiting cycle.