Illini football announces 18 signees in 2014 class

By By: Stephen Bourbon

For the second consecutive year, head coach Tim Beckman and the Illinois football team dipped into the ranks of junior college players to fill recruiting needs.

The Illini class of 2014 includes five junior college players, the same amount as in 2013. The 18-man class rounded out with 12 recruits signing letters of intent Wednesday, in addition to the six early enrollees already on campus.

Scout.com ranks the Illini class last in the Big Ten and 70th in the FBS.

The crown jewel of the class is junior college defensive lineman Jihad Ward, generally considered the class’s only four-star recruit. Ward will have two years of eligibility in the Orange and Blue and is ranked the No. 23 junior college player in the country by Scout.

“He’s huge. He’s what you want him to look like,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “He could go anywhere in the country and be one of the biggest guys there.”

Ward, from Philadelphia, connected with offensive coordinator Bill Cubit — who is also from Philadelphia — during the recruiting process, and Beckman believes it was their relationship which was crucial in his commitment.

Familiar faces

There are a few familiar faces in this year’s class. Defense end Paul James III was a 2013 commit and joined the Illini in the summer, but had to delay his enrollment to January.

Also, fellow early enrollee Peter Cvijanovic is the brother of current Illini left tackle Simon. Peter spent a year at prep school after high school before enrolling for the spring semester.

Illini looking for early impact from WRs

The 2014 class signed four wide receivers, two of whom are already enrolled for the spring semester.

Geronimo Allison and Tyrin Stone-Davis are both junior college players rated as three-star prospects by Scout. Allison will have two years of eligibility while Stone-Davis will have three after redshirting at junior college in 2013.

Stone-Davis signed a letter of intent to enroll this semester, but academic issues forced Tyrin to wait until the fall to join the Illini. His brother, Tyree, was also committed to Illinois as a two-star cornerback but will not be enrolling at Illinois because of similar academic issues.

Allison already had an Illini connection as he came from the same junior college as current Illini players Martize Barr and Dallas Hinkhouse.

“They can teach me the early ropes,” Allison said. “I’m here early to compete to start early. Those seniors did a heck of a job last year, they put up numbers. I’m looking to do the same.”

The other two wide receivers, incoming freshmen Malik Turner and Mike Dudek, have the coaching staff excited as well. Beckman called Turner a “steal,” because he missed his junior season due to injury.

Recruiting in-state and

‘Illini nation’

The Illini added five players from the state of Illinois — nearly one-third of the 18-man class, bringing the total to 52 players on the roster from the Land of Lincoln.

Beckman wasted no time in his news conference taking a veiled shot at Northwestern, saying the Illini signed four players from Chicago, more than “the team that is in Chicago.”

Even outside of the state of Illinois, Beckman and his staff recruited “Illini nation” heavily — the area within a six-hour radius of Champaign-Urbana. The 2014 class has 10 players from “Illini nation,” and Beckman said recruiting in-state is always his top priority.

Of the top-11 players in the state of Illinois, the Illini signed one, three-star center Nick Allegretti from Frankfort, Ill.

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.