Illini pull off couple of surprises on Signing Day
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While college football coaches recruit every day of their professional lives, it can be an overwhelming, one-time-only process for a high school prospect.
That's why Benet offensive tackle Pat Flavin probably wasn't the only blue-chipper unsure how to express his feelings Wednesday after signing his letter of intent with Illinois.
"For the last year, recruiting is all I've thought about," said Flavin, viewed as a potential successor to standout weak-side tackle Jeff Allen. "I thought about it every day."
While excited to be one of the 27 high school seniors to sign with the Illini, Flavin admitted to some hectic moments after committing to recruiting coach Paul Petrino in mid-December.
He contemplated taking a late visit to UCLA, but thought better of it. He shut down a last-minute bid from Michigan's new staff to get involved.
Then, when he woke up Wednesday on his dead-end street in Darien, the plows hadn't come through.
His neighbor's fax machine didn't work, either, so the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Flavin spent his morning shoveling out the driveway in order to send in his NLI.
"I'm excited that it's finally official," Flavin said.
His letter of intent turned out to be the second-to-last one to cross Illinois' wires — but soon was upstaged as the final two represented the last-minute surprises that Ron Zook's staff always pulls.
Florida defensive tackle Chris Jones (6-3, 305) reversed a recent commitment to North Carolina State while Louisville tight end Jon Davis, regarded as the nation's No. 138 recruit by ESPNU, switched after being a Kentucky recruit for almost 14 months.
"I don't think there's any question (Davis) is a very, very athletic, talented guy," Zook said. "We told him at the beginning of recruiting, he could be a tailback. As I told him and his family, he's a guy you want to get the ball in his hands."
After setting the school record with 32.5 points per game in 2010, Illinois attracted eight skill-position players in this class.
Davis boasts the best national profile, but 6-foot-3½, 220-pound Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Reilly O'Toole earned Illinois' Gatorade player of the year award after providing 42 TDs with just 3 interceptions for the Class 7A state champions.
"He has all the throws," said WW South coach Ron Muhitch. "He can throw the fastball, the touch ball; he can throw the ball off-balance a la Ben Roethlisberger. He's very similar to him in terms of a quarterback.
"He's got the deep ball, a big arm. I called more opening-play TDs this year than in the history of the program."
Illinois mined Naperville to find quarterback-turned-tight end Matt LaCosse at Naperville North and multi-threat running back Josh Ferguson from Joliet Catholic.
"We kind of fell in love with Josh at (summer) camp," Zook said. "Coach Petrino, he couldn't get enough of him. He's just got great quicks, great hand-eye coordination, great ball skills; he's a guy you can get him in a receiver position. He runs routes like a receiver."
Illinois planned to bring in just one running back, but that changed once it became clear all-Big Ten back Mikel Leshoure would turn pro a year early.
That led to the decision to snag 5-11, 215-pound bruiser Donovonn Young from Texas. He rushed for 2,332 yards and 36 TDs for Houston area powerhouse Katy HS last fall.
"The first time I laid eyes on him, I said, 'Man, that guy looks like an NFL back,'" Zook said.
Illinois added 11 players on defense, including five for Vic Koenning's depleted secondary. Four-star recruit Dondi Kirby (Monroeville, Pa.) has the highest profile of the group.
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