Illini coaches optimistic about 2014 recruits, despite negative reviews
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter February 5, 2014 10:16PM
In this Aug. 31, 2013 photo, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman is seen before an NCAA college football game against Southern Illinois in Champaign, Ill. AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Bradley Leeb, File)
Updated: February 5, 2014 10:39PM
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh has two main messages for fans of the school’s football program coming out of national signing day Wednesday.
One, don’t make too much of the recruiting rankings by which men such as Golesh and, of course, Illini coach Tim Beckman are annually judged. Or prejudged, to be more accurate.
“It doesn’t matter if you win the press conference on Feb. 5,” Golesh said, “because the results have to come out in those 12 games in the fall. I remind Coach Beck of that, too, a lot. Who cares?”
Two, the Illini coaches believe — sincerely — that their 2014 recruiting class will go down as a major success.
“When we sit in that staff room and talk, we are so happy with the class,” Golesh said. “We addressed huge needs with high-quality players. We addressed our needs in a big way.”
Illinois had three glaring areas of need — wideout, defensive line and linebacker — and signed 12 players at those positions. That’s a huge chunk of this 18-member class, which includes five players from the junior-college ranks and four freshman early enrollees.
According to offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, all four wideouts in this class will be expected to see the field in 2014. Golesh called Springfield’s Malik Turner and Naperville’s Mikey Dudek “the two best [high school] receivers in the state.” They’ll compete for snaps with juco signees Geronimo Allison and Tyrin Stone-Davis, as well as returning players Martize Barr and Justin Hardee.
Remember the names of linebackers Carroll Phillips and Tre Watson, two of the four Florida natives in the class. Phillips was considered one of the best pass rushers in the junior-college ranks. Watson, a 240-pound bruiser, had 164 tackles as a high school senior and was named defensive MVP of one of the national all-star games.
If there’s one guy the staff is most excited about, it’s Jihad Ward. Golesh called him “if not the best, then one of the two best defensive lineman in the country in junior-college football.”
Multiple Illini coaches referred to the 6-6, 305-pound Ward as a “freak.” If he isn’t in the starting lineup against Youngstown State on Aug. 30, it’ll be an upset and a major disappointment.