CHAMPAIGN – Illinois added the player it hopes is its quarterback of the future Wednesday and made clear to the other members of its recruiting class that they could play right away after a two-win season.
The Illini signed a recruiting class of 20 players on national signing day, five of whom have already enrolled. First-year coach Tim Beckman announced earlier that he’s also signed five junior college transfers to fill immediate needs.
Recruiting service Rivals.com ranked Illinois’ class 46th in the country and seventh in the Big Ten. Scout.com puts the Illini’s 2013 class 40th in the country and fifth in the 12-team conference.
The signings include Aaron Bailey, a 6-2, 220-pound quarterback from Bolingbrook, whose signing Beckman said was important for a team coming off a 2-10 season (0-8 Big Ten). Both Scout and Rivals call Bailey a four-star recruit.
“Huge, huge,” Beckman said, adding that he should be a good fit for new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s versatile, pass-oriented offense.
“I think that Aaron’s commitment to us shows that he sees a future here,” Beckman added.
Nathan Scheelhaase, who will be a senior this fall, is the incumbent starter, but Beckman said it’s possible for any of his top three quarterbacks – Scheelhaase, backup Reilly O’Toole or Bailey – to play this fall. Scheelhaase was limited by injury last fall and had a rough season, throwing for 1,361 yards and four touchdowns, along with eight interceptions.
Beckman said that’s true for just about any of the 25 new players expected to be on the roster this fall.
“We didn’t win very many football games, but we were still able to get one of the top recruiting classes ... the top half of the country, by telling these students athletes that they were going to get an opportunity,” he said.
Another highly regarded addition is running back Kendrick Foster from Richwoods in Peoria. At 5-9 and 190 pounds, Foster had 1,749 yards on 236 carries and scored 21 touchdowns as a senior. That capped a career in which he ran for 6,401 yards, fifth in Illinois high school football history.
Foster is expected to play this fall, giving Illinois the freedom to move running back Josh Ferguson around in Cubit’s offense, Beckman said.
“Kendrick definitely will be a factor in that,” Beckman said.
The Illini also added six defensive backs, along with junior college signing Zane Petty at safety. Most of the regular defensive backs from last season, including cornerback Terry Hawthorne, were seniors. And another, safety Steve Hull, will be moved to receiver next season, Beckman said.
“Because of graduation, defensive back was a necessity,” he said. “To be honest with you, we would have had a hard time practicing this spring if we did not add some.”
Five of the new signings and all five junior college players are already on campus, Beckman said. That includes three incoming freshman expected to help build up the offensive line, a weak spot last season.
New linemen Jesse Chadwell (6-5, 260, from Clarkston, Mich.), Christian Dilauro (6-5, 270, from Uniontown, Ohio) and Austin Schmidt (6-6, 275, from Galena, Ohio) are all working on adding weight, Beckman said, noting that offensive line may be the toughest spot to play as a freshman because young players often aren’t yet big enough.
“Everybody saw their size and realized they’re not up to 300 pounds yet,” he said.
Beckman’s class — his first full class at Illinois after taking over for the fire Ron Zook in December 2011 — includes eight players from Illinois, among them four from Chicago. The coach said every member of his staff now recruits in the city, an area where Illinois’ recruiting has long been hit and miss.
The recruits also include 15 players from the region that lies within six hours in any direction from Champaign, according to Beckman.
“That’s the area that we feel is crucial to the success of any program,” he said.
Illinois also recruited five players from Ohio, which was regularly a source of talent for Zook and an area where Beckman — who came to Illinois from Toledo — has a lot of experience.
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