Calvin Hart Jr. ready for Illini debut

Sports

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Calvin Hart Jr. likes to joke that he recruited George McDonald to Illinois.

“I made the move before he did,” Hart Jr. said with a smile. “It’s kind of crazy but I think I got him here.”

The Illinois wide receivers coach brought Hart Jr. to his previous stop at North Carolina State but after Hart Jr. left the Wolfpack for another opportunity, he joined the Illini before most of the coaching staff. The Florida native was the first transfer to commit to Bret Bielema’s program, just weeks after he took over as head coach.

“It was a time for me that I felt like I needed, and when the door opened I took it,” Hart Jr. said.

“South Florida guy that brings a lot of confidence and swag,” Bielema said about his inside linebacker. “And I think he’s checked the box in a lot of categories.”

At N.C. State, the former three-star recruit played in 10 games last season, making 18 tackles and two sacks. But after three seasons, Hart Jr. entered the transfer portal wanting more.

“That’s why I’m here, I wanted to play big games, play in big games, and what better place to do it than in the Big Ten,” he said.

And Hart. Jr. is in a perfect spot to earn a starting role this fall. With Milo Eifler leaving for the NFL, and Khalan Tohlson and Tarique Barnes both coming off season ending injuries last fall, Hart Jr. is likely to line up next to sixth year senior Jake Hansen at inside linebacker in the season opener against Nebraska Saturday at 12 p.m. on FOX.

“They set the standard,” Hart Jr. said about his returning Illini teammates. “I’m just trying to come in, and do my job, and do what’s best for the team.”

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