Nine recruits visit Illinois football in late June for official meetings with coaching staff

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Sydney Laput

Illinois football head coach head coach Bret Bielema watches the team warm up before the Spring Orange and Blue game on April 21. Nine recruits have visited Illinois in meeting with coaching staff, and the team currently have 11 commits.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

After a successful first official visit weekend for Illinois, head coach Bret Bielema and the rest of the Illinois coaching staff snagged some future pieces to the Illinois defense and provided some future stability for a historically high-performing special teams unit.

With even more players connecting with the ‘FamILLy’ motto, Bielema is beginning to show his ability to close on many recruits who’ve developed deep relationships with his coaching staff. 

With the numbers of recruits increasing steadily, the Illini currently rank No. 39 in team recruiting with a total of 11 commits for the Class of 2023.

Here are the players who attended, their fits in the program and their status in joining Bielema’s team:

Christopher Terek

Christopher Terek poses with a stack of pancakes at Illinois visit.

Photo Sourced from Illini Inquirer/247 Sports

The 6-foot-6-inch offensive tackle from Glenbard West High School has had four official visits scheduled with a variety of Big Ten teams, first traveling to Wisconsin, followed by Michigan, Illinois and finally, Iowa. 

While the Class of 2023 already hosts a total of three other offensive linemen signed, adding another Big Ten quality lineman will help produce another possible starter for the future. However, with the other high quality programs gunning for Terek, competition will be tough.

Terek has shown an amazing ability to latch onto defenders and transition his power to effectively eliminate his opponents. Increasing his strength and polishing up his techniques, Terek is bound to be a major cornerstone to whichever offensive line he joins.

Zachary Tobe

Zachary Tobe on Twitter: “#Illini pic.twitter.com/wUCL8V6mSA / Twitter”

Illini pic.twitter.com/wUCL8V6mSA

Probably one of the busiest recruits of Bielema’s 2023 class was Tobe, who has a total of five official visits in the month of June alone. The Florida native’s journey started with a visit to nearby UCF followed by Boston College, Illinois, Iowa and North Carolina. While he still has one more visit to go (as of this writing) with North Carolina, Tobe set an official decision date of July 7th.

The 6-foot-1-inch safety out of Ocoee, Fla., is one of many Florida prospects that Bielema and his staff have recruited in recent years. He adds great length, speed and upside to a lineup that will soon lose Sydney Brown in the next coming years, one of the bigger leaders on the defensive side of the ball.

Famah Toure

https://twitter.com/1kFamah/status/1538575439572115456

The 6-foot-3-inch wide receiver has been the main target of Rutgers, Kentucky, West Virginia and Illinois. The New Jersey product would add a great size increase in the wide receiver room. His film shows an obvious size advantage and strong ability to overpower and break tackles, in addition to some elusive first moves in open space.

While family ties may be inching him closer to Rutgers, with brother Mohamed Toure playing linebacker for his in-state team, Bielema will hope that his pitch to build a new identity at Illinois will be enough to draw him away from his hometown stomping grounds.

Antown Hayden

https://twitter.com/AntwonHayden/status/1508840993323466757

East St. Louis linebacker Antwon Hayden has served as Bielema’s player recruiter for this weekend of official visits, helping sell the team from a fellow prospect perspective. 

Hayden was Illinois’ second commit of the Class of 2023, committing with running back Kaden Faden back in March as a major pickup from a factory of Division I football players in East St. Louis. At 6 feet 2 inches and 235 pounds, Hayden provides another future piece for coach Andy Buh to work with and develop into a possible cornerstone for years to come with the right development and time.

Jaheim Clarke

https://twitter.com/jaheimclarke3/status/1538690976377602048

Three-star safety Jaheim Clarke was one of the bigger names as one of the many Florida prospects coming to Illinois for their official visit. The difference between Clarke and many of the other prospects is that Clarke left with a hard commitment to Bielema and his staff.

Clarke’s film shows how versatile he can be within Illinois’ system, being able to play both zone and man coverage at an exceptionally high level. Clarke is relatively sound technically and is really disciplined when it comes to reading a receiver’s reactions and knowing when or when not to bite on it. Giving Clarke some time to develop behind veteran players will be great for him developing into the player that Bielema wants him to be.

Mason Muragin

https://twitter.com/MMuragin/status/1539390233820684294

Coming out of Warren, Mich., Mason Muragin stands at 6 feet 4 inches and 235 pounds and has terrorized linemen and quarterbacks at the Division II Michigan High School level. Now, he will have the opportunity to do so with the Big Ten, joining Illinois as the 11th 2023 commit.

Muragin shows great footwork and use of hands, he knows when to engage and how and is very motor driven in pressuring the quarterback. He will help provide long-term stability to the defensive line that is veteran heavy.

Calvin Smith

Calvin Smith poses for a picture at Illinois visit.

Photo Sourced from Illini Inquirer/247 Sports

Alongside Tobe, Smith comes from Ocoee, Fla and has made great connections over the official visit weekend. With Pittsburgh and Rutgers also in the mix for the 6-feet-3-inch edge rusher, Illinois will look to close out a deal on an extremely athletically gifted player who only has potential to continue developing into a true Big Ten edge rusher.

Film shows he helps collapse the pocket quickly, disrupting the cadence of the quarterback and sending offensive lines into panic.

Kenari Wilcher

Kenari Wilcher poses for photo during Illinois visit.

Photo Sourced from Illini Inquirer/247 Sports

Wilcher is a three-star defensive back/ATH who is extremely versatile on both sides of the ball. In the 2021 season, Wilcher totaled 510 yards of offense (423 receiving) and 3 TD in 11 games. On defense, he racked up 16 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 INTs according to 247 Sports.

With both Indiana and Illinois recruiting the Florida football player hard, it’s easy to see why both programs want him. He’s extremely fast, gains a lot of yards after the catch and overall has a great football intuition, finding himself exactly where he needs to be, both on offense and defense.

With Bielema looking to increase the overall athleticism of the team, a pickup like Wilcher would be sure to open up opportunities to use his versatility over time

David Olano

https://twitter.com/DavidOlano8/status/1538567328610373633

One of the most prized possessions in the state, Olano made it very clear that he wanted to play for Illinois. The No. 1 ranked kicker according to Chris Sailer, rising Naperville North senior, had received interest from Alabama, Minnesota and Air Force. 

“I’ve been to many places, and nothing is like Illinois. Everyone knows your name. You get greeted here,” Olano told the Illini Inquirer. “It’s my home state, so to play for my home state is super special. I always knew it was here, so it was only a matter of time.”

The turning point was an official scholarship offer, received at the beginning of his official visit weekend. It didn’t take Olano much longer after that to commit, having shined at Illinois’ showcase camp, making four of five kicks, missing one from 40+ yards and making one from 50 yards.

Bielma expressed clear dissatisfaction of his current kickers’ performances during the spring game this last April, giving Olano the opportunity to step in as a freshman and compete for the starting job.

 

@JonathanAlday7

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