The biggest present of all

By Darren Bailey

My alarm was set for 7:45 on Wednesday morning. I didn’t get close. I was wide awake and out of bed by 7. Why? Because Feb. 1 was Christmas Day for die-hard college football fans -Signing Day. The day when the infectious disease that is college football recruiting is beaten and fans can breathe easy, knowing that their most coveted prospects are locked-in and will be wearing their favorite school’s colors.

The symptoms always begin the same. Right around mid-February you start out hearing, “This big kid from Bloomington who can really run,” or that “Vocational has a QB with an absolute cannon for an arm. Check that, a laser!”

The sickness quickly progresses. “I heard the tight end is six-feet-five-inches, weighs 230 pounds, and runs a 4.6. And I think he likes Illinois!” and “That QB? Yeah, he was at the Illinois camp. Blew everyone away. That kid from Morgan Park couldn’t even challenge him.”

By mid-July, the infected individual has a full-blown case of recruiticitis. “It’s not pronounced Hoomanawanui, it’s Huh-oh-mana-vanui. Gosh! Idiot!” and “Oh yeah, I heard that Juice said.”

Treatments come along around November and December as prospects begin to visit schools and give their verbal commitments. Sometimes these medicines prove effective, but side effects include overconfidence for some, extreme paranoia for others.

Eventually, however, signing day comes around and relief is delivered – 20 to 25 names on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. Oh how sweet it is. However, I misspoke earlier. There is no cure for recruiticitis, and it never is beaten – it simply goes into remission . for about a month. In extreme cases, however, recruiticitis never leaves. Example A: Ron Zook.

This year, my relief came in the form of 28 presents under my Illini football tree, coming from all over the nation – from California to Ohio to Florida.

Through the Internet many of you know the headliners of the class. Names like Juice Williams, Marques Wilkins, Chris James, and Michael Hoomanawanui are the kinds of presents that make you immediately call your friends to brag. However, there are other names that could play just as big, if not a bigger role, this upcoming year.

Honestly, the biggest new addition may not be from the prep ranks at all. Former Wheaton prep and Oklahoma tackle Akim Millington completed his transfer and enrolled at Illinois for this semester. When I say “biggest,” I mean it in two ways. One, he will most assuredly step right into a starting position – perhaps protecting the quarterback’s blind side at left tackle. Two, he immediately jumps to 1-B in the pure size rankings at Illinois, compared to Chuck Myles’ 1-A. Millington stands six-feet-seven-inches tall and weighs 320 pounds.

Many of the rest of the impact players are on the defensive side of the ball, where help was desperately needed. Juco transfers Justin Sanders and Antonio Steele have two starting positions on defense all but locked-up, and they’ll add speed and aggressiveness to the table from day one.

Antonio James hails from a storied Massillon, Ohio program and has the size and potential to be a big-time player.

The biggest coup, however, may have been in the secondary, where seven ball players (including Sanders) were signed. Cornerbacks Dere Hicks and Chris Duvalt are absolute burners who may come in and be the fastest players on the team.

The final present of the day was finding out that much-coveted corner Vontae Davis decided to come on home to Big Daddy Locks (Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley) and play some ball. He had the staff on pins and needles, but the athletic ball player came through for them and will bring his physical style of play to the Orange and Blue.

There were lots of presents this year, like getting every in-state player the staff really wanted. But the biggest may be the gift that keeps on giving – Ron Zook and his staff, who have already started to do it again for next year.

Darren Bailey is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]