CHAMPAIGN -- The fax came across the machine early in the afternoon, giving the Illinois football recruiting class a late steal. Tight end Jon Davis, a native of Louisville who originally committed to Kentucky, turned down the Wildcats and local choice Louisville for a strong recruiting pitch from the Illini.
CHAMPAIGN -- The fax came across the machine early in the afternoon, giving the Illinois football recruiting class a late steal.
Tight end Jon Davis, a native of Louisville who originally committed to Kentucky, turned down the Wildcats and local choice Louisville for a strong recruiting pitch from the Illini.
"You didn't know exactly,'' coach Ron Zook said. "It was a fight. You can't have too many playmakers on the team. We got involved with Jon a few weeks ago. Then it was just kind of getting everything out on the table. He had a great visit.''
Davis' decision to sign with the Illini gave the class a late victory to polish a group that filled Illinois' needs on both lines, running back, quarterback and punter. After a 7-6 record and a Texas Bowl victory over Baylor, the momentum continued on national signing day, when 27 players sent letters of intent to the Illini football office Wednesday. Metamora placekicker Brennen VanMieghem will join the team as a preferred walk-on, but Canton offensive lineman Hunter Wells didn't sign with the Illini.
The class isn't as flashy as some of those earlier in Zook's tenure. Davis and defensive back Dondi Kirby were the only four-star recruits, and the Illini didn't land a five-star commitment. Nevertheless, analysts felt the Illini secured a solid recruiting class.
Rivals.com ranked Illinois No. 41 overall and eighth in the Big Ten, but CBS Sports placed Illinois 13th overall and second in the Big Ten. It just goes to show how difficult it is to rate football recruiting, but the Illini apparently proved the overhauled coaching staff can not only coach but also recruit.
"We've talked about this from the beginning,'' Zook said. "We're going to recruit friends and family (style). You've got the best opportunities and best chances to recruit guys where you have your best contacts and know people.''
Quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm worked Louisville, running the point of attack on Davis. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Davis was rated the top prospect in the state and a four-star recruit by Scout.com. He ranked No. 138 nationally by ESPN. Davis was also considered as a running back prospect, Zook said.
As a senior at Eastern High School, Davis rushed for 934 yards and 16 touchdowns with 24 catches for 334 yards and two touchdowns.
Running backs coach DeAndre Smith helped land the 6-3, 190-pound Kirby, who flew under the radar after missing his senior season at Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway because of a knee injury. Named a four-star by Rivals, Kirby was a big cornerback who can also play safety. Smith's work was also key in signing running back Donovonn Young, who rushed for 2,332 yards and a school-record 36 touchdowns at Katy (Texas).
Overlooked because of a foot injury as a junior, the 5-11, 215-pound Young committed after watching the Illini in the bowl game just up the road in Houston.
"When I saw him at the bowl game, I said, 'That guy looks like an NFL back,' '' Zook said. "He's a big, powerful guy from a great high school program, a school that turns out an awful lot of players.''
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino tabbed Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Reilly O'Toole as a target and also got offensive lineman Pat Flavin from Lisle Benet Academy. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning worked Memphis, landing respected linebacker Henry Dickinson.
O'Toole is rated at No. 99 by Chicago-based analyst Tom Lemming, of CBS Sports. O'Toole threw for 3,187 yards and 42 touchdowns with only three interceptions while earning consensus player of the year awards in the state. He will give the Illini a pocker passer to go with athletic Nathan Scheelhaase, who started every game last fall as a redshirt freshman.
Justin DuVernois is expected to fill the void left following the graduation of senior punter Anthony Santella.
Last fall, athletic director Ron Guenther indicated he wanted Zook to change direction in recruiting, going for more character and stable players rather than flashy athletes.
"One of the things I felt we made a mistake is we recruited some stars,'' Guenther said. "I'm talking five-star and four-star and missed some football players.''
Analysts have noticed the difference.
‘‘It looks like they’re going for more quality kids, kids that are smart football players,’’ Lemming said. ‘‘All things considered, it’s a pretty good class. Give credit to Zook and his staff. He made the changes he needed to make.''
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
Illinois football recruiting class
Willie Beavers/DT/6-5/310/Lathrup Village (Mich.) Lathrup
Chris Boles/OL/6-5/315/Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic
Darrius Caldwell/DE/ 6-5/210/Atlanta Mays
Ralph Cooper/LB/6-1/220/Winnsboro (S.C.)
Valdon Cooper/DB/5-10/170/Elberton (Ga.) Elbert County
Jon Davis/TE/6-3/230/Louisville (Ky.) Eastern
Henry Dickinson/LB/6-4/210/Memphis University School
Tony Durkin/OL/6-3/260/Tinley Park Andrew
Justin DuVernois/P/6-1/190/Jacksonville (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
Josh Ferguson/RB/5-10/180/Naperville (Joliet Catholic)
Pat Flavin/ OL/6-7/260/Lisle Benet
Jordan Frysinger/WR/6-0/175/Corning (N.Y.) Painted Post East
Zeph Grimes/DB/5-11/210/Bamberg (S.C.) Bamberg-Ehrhardt
Chris Jones/6-5/305/OL/Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines
Ted Karras/OL/6-3/290/Indianapolis Cathedral
Dondi Kirby/DB/6-3/190/Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway
Kenny Knight/WR/6-4/190/Beverly Hills (Mich.) Country Day
Matt LaCosse/WR/6-6/220/Naperville North
Scott McDowell/OL/6-5/280/Hinsdale Central
Kenny Nelson/DE/6-6/245/Detroit Cass Tech
Nick North/DB/6-2/195/Hollywood (Fla.) McArthur
Chris O'Connor/DE/6-5/240/Tinley Park Andrew
Reilly O'Toole/QB/6-4/215/Wheaton-Warrenville South
Eaton Spence/DB/6-0/175/Belle Glades (Fla.)
Clint Tucker/DT/6-2/285/East St. Louis
* -- Brennen VanMieghem/K/6-2/195/Metamora
Jeremey Whitlow/WR/6-2/190/Cleveland Central Catholic
Donovonn Young/RB/5-11/215/Katy (Texas)