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Illinois football coach Tim Beckman goes juco, adds five players

Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown who was plagued by injuries 2012 will forgo NFL draft return for his senior season. |

Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown, who was plagued by injuries in 2012, will forgo the NFL draft and return for his senior season. | John Dixon~AP

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Updated: January 21, 2013 4:03PM

Intent on reviving an lllinois football program that went 2-10 in his first season, coach Tim Beckman announced the signing of five junior-college players Wednesday.

One of the recruits, 290-pound defensive tackle Abe Cajuste, could come in handy. Junior Akeem Spence is expected to announce he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft this week.

Linebacker Jonathan Brown, who also has a bright pro future, has decided to return for his senior season after struggling through an injury-filled 2012 campaign.

Cajuste, from Miami by way of Victor Valley (Calif.) College, ‘‘gives us a big body on the defensive line,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘He will help add depth with the departure of several key seniors from the line.’’

Illinois will lose 71/2 starters on defense, including all but one co-starter, Tim Kynard, on the defensive line. It could return nine starters on offense but is losing its two best linemen, Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton.

Beckman is expected to bring in approximately 28 players, including jucos and high school signees during this recruiting season.

Two of the junior-college signees are defensive backs from California: safety Zane Petty, from American River College, and star (hybrid safety/linebacker) Eric Finney, from College of the Canyons.

Illinois has not gone the junior-college route often since Mike White ran a successful California junior-college pipeline in the ’80s. Since then, two of Illinois’ most prominent jucos have been defensive backs — Trulon Henry, who completed his career a year ago, and Kelvin Hayden, who played in Champaign in 2003 and ’04 and is now with the Bears.

The other two signees are offensive players: wide receiver Martize Barr, from Washington, D.C., by way of New Mexico and Iowa Western Community College; and lineman Dallas Hinkhouse, also from Iowa Western.

Beckman opted to postpone a press briefing until next month, when up to five high school recruits are expected to enroll at Illinois to participate in spring practice. Beckman enthusiastically welcomed the junior-college signees in a statement, though.

‘‘The most exciting part is that they fill immediate needs for us,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘They all play a different position of need and are spread across all areas of the team. The fact that we were able to go throughout the country and sell Illinois football to these young men and their families shows the work ethic and commitment from our staff.’’

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