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Class lacks star power, but Illini coach Tim Beckman ‘excited’

Updated: March 3, 2012 11:41AM

New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman didn’t waste any time on national signing day Wednesday. He wanted to pick on one of the recruits, Mount Carmel defensive lineman Vontrell Williams, in a good way.

“I’m excited about this recruiting class,” said Beckman, who was hired in December after Ron Zook’s ouster following an 0-6 finish to a 6-6 season. ‘‘There is only one [recruit] I will point out, and that is Vontrell Williams. He was one of the first to commit to the previous staff, and he was involved in Toledo recruiting [when Beckman was the head coach]. I’ve known him or quite some time.’’

The 6-2, 275-pound Williams is a three-star recruit, according to, and was ranked 16th in the state.

Beckman and his new staff received letters of intent from 19 recruits: 14 skill players, four linemen and a kicker.

Since Mike Thomas was hired as Illinois’ athletic director in August, he and the Illinois athletic department have somewhat challenged Northwestern’s marketing slogan of ‘‘Chicago’s Big Ten Team.’’ Beckman seems to want to recruit the Chicago area hard and emphasizes a five-hour radius around Champaign that is going to be crucial to the Illini’s recruiting success.

‘‘We were up there, and we got in a little late,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘There were only a couple players not committed, and we contacted everybody to see if they’d be interested. We were running behind on the clock, as they say.’’

Among the other Chicago-area recruits, Beckman’s class features offensive lineman Robbie Bain of Bolingbrook and J.J. Robertson of Lincoln-Way East.

Beckman was able to have enough pull in a short amount of time to get one recruit to change his mind — defensive back B.J. Bello of Lincoln-Way West. Bello decommitted from Western Michigan to join Beckman’s new regime on Jan. 29. Beckman was able to keep all of the Chicago-area recruits who had committed to Zook.

The class features six players from Ohio, five each from Illinois and Florida and one each from Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. But most of the signees are two- and three-star players, according to There isn’t a marquee five-star player — or even a four — in the bunch.

Beckman lost out on one recruit, defensive tackle Vincent Valentine of Edwardsville, who chose Nebraska on Wednesday instead of Illinois or Florida. ranks Illinois’ recruiting class as 10th best in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern but ahead of Indiana and Minnesota. But has the Illini ranked last in the conference.

The Illini also will have a committed walk-on in long snapper Michael Martin of Champaign Centennial.

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