CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — 365 days ago, Bret Bielema was hired as the Illinois football head coach, replacing Lovie Smith. It’s been quite the season for Bielema and the Illini, who led the program to a 5-7 record, with four of those wins coming in Big Ten play. They were just one win away from reaching bowl eligibility, making it the only the third time in Bielema’s coaching career he missed a bowl game.

The program faced several highs and lows since Bielema was first hired a year ago, with big moments in the season coming in wins against Penn State, Minnesota, and Northwestern. On Wednesday, Bielema signed his first Illini high school recruiting class, after re-kindling relationships with in-state coaches in just his first day on the job. In the Class of 2022, Bielema signing ten players from the state of Illinois.

“To get the flagship university for a state that I grew up in, and competed in this conference as a player, it’s the perfect recipe, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Bielema. “And now to get here, and be in this environment for a year, and see the growth that we’ve had — just the excitement about where we can go is probably tenfold now of when I started. And I was excited, and it was high when I got there. But now I know what is tangible, and now I’m even more excited.”