Quarterback DiNovo joins Illini in odd transfer

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

After a 24-point loss against South Florida, the Illinois football team boarded the plane to leave Tampa Bay without much to show for its time.

But by the time the Illini hit the practice field this week, it was clear that head coach Lovie Smith had not left his second home empty-handed. Quarterback Pete DiNovo – who played for the University of Central Florida in nearby Orlando – transferred to Illinois as a walk-on on Monday.

While adding his name to the mix would seem to make an already murky Illini quarterback situation even more unclear, until he can learn the playbook it would take an extreme situation for DiNovo to make it on to the field in the coming weeks. In the meantime, he will have to adjust to the Illinois style of play, just as his teammates will have to adjust to having him around.

“It’s nice to have Pete here, he fits right in,” said quarterback Jeff George, Jr. “He’s gotta learn the offense now, but we’ll be helping him as much as we can.”

George, like many Illini fans, was a little taken aback by the news of DiNovo’s arrival. While transfers are common enough, transfers three games into the season are just about unheard of, let alone ones where the player is eligible to play immediately.

“I’ve never really seen it happen, but it’s good to have another body in there; it makes us all better,” George said. “He’s a good guy. He’s real social; he’ll be a good guy to have around.”

DiNovo took over the starting role at UCF in 2014 from former No. 3 NFL draft pick Blake Bortles when he was a freshman, but lost his starting job after just one game. He also played some as wide receiver during his time at UCF, but figures to stay in the pocket for the Illini.

DiNovo didn’t choose Illinois at random. The new No. 6 will be reuniting with defensive backs coach Donnie Abraham, who coached at East Lake High School when DiNovo was their star quarterback, and linebacker Jake Hansen, who played for East Lake before becoming an Illini.

It will be a few weeks, if not longer, before DiNovo is familiar enough with the Illini playbook to really compete for playing time. In the meantime, he will provide cover for the Illini in case Chayce Crouch or George get injured.

Behind George and Crouch on the depth chart, the Illini had true freshman Cam Thomas. The coaching staff likes Thomas’ skills and sees him as a potential starter down the road, but wants him to redshirt this season to give him an extra year of eligibility.

With DiNovo’s arrival, that plan seems more likely to come to fruition than ever.

[email protected]