New Illinois coach adds 19 recruits in first class

Associated Press
Updated 2/1/2012 6:05 PM

CHAMPAIGN -- New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman loaded up on running backs and defensive backs in his first signing class, a group that some recruiting-ranking services said was among the Big Ten's weakest.

Beckman signed 19 players on national signing day Wednesday, many of them holdovers recruited by his predecessor, Ron Zook. The recruiting service rated Illinois' class last among the 12 Big Ten teams and 67th in the country.


Beckman took over Dec. 9 after departing Toledo, leaving him with just a few weeks to assemble a staff as well as start contacting Zook's recruits and lining up new ones.

He said Wednesday he wouldn't use his limited time as an excuse, noting that his first class at Toledo wasn't very highly regarded either. Beckman's Rockets teams went 21-16 in three seasons.

"I'm not going to talk about struggles," he said. "We all know we didn't have very much time. I can commend the recruiting class three years ago at Toledo. Those guys played -- they weren't rated high."

Beckman takes over a team that went 6-6 in the regular season and 2-6 in the Big Ten, costing Zook his job. The Illini defeated UCLA 20-14 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

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Illinois' class includes three running backs -- 5-10, 210-pound Dami Ayoola of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; 6-3, 195-pound LaKeith Walls of Cleveland; and Devin Church, a 5-8, 175-pound player from Southfield, Mich., who Beckman said will likely be a hybrid back-receiver.

Freshman Donovonn Young is the only tailback returning from last season's squad who had significant playing time. He had 451 yards and six touchdowns on 87 carries. The other two primary backs, Jason Ford and Troy Pollard, were seniors.

Beckman called Walls "an outstanding track sprinter" while saying Ayoola has both size and moves.

"He's a bigger guy," Beckman said. "I think he can make you miss in the hole."

The addition of six defensive backs, Beckman said, was intended to fill a hole in the roster. Two of last year's regulars, Tavon Wilson and Miami Thomas, were seniors.


"A couple of those players could also be wide receiver-type players," Beckman said. "We look for skill, and we got some skill."

One of the more highly regarded defensive backs is V'Angelo Bentley, a 5-10, 180-pound cornerback from Cleveland.

Illinois had one of the better defenses in the Big Ten last fall -- fifth in scoring defense and second in total defense. But several key players are gone, including defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the country with 16 sacks before deciding to skip his senior season for the NFL draft.

The recruiting class didn't include a quarterback, but Beckman noted his roster includes four, including returning starter Nathan Scheelhaase and a freshman who played in 10 games, Reilly O'Toole.

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