Illinois Football Signing Day 2017

Sports

WCIA — When Illinois football coach Lovie Smith was hired last March, he pledged to recruit in-state kids the hardest.  Smith followed through on his word Wednesday, signing 10 Illinois kids to play for their state school next season.  It’s the largest number of in-state recruits to come to Champaign since 2007.   

“We are pretty pumped up about it and I think what a lot of the guys saw was an opportunity,” Smith said.  “When you come in new, people want to be apart of building something and I think these guys feel like they’re going to have a big impact on what we do going forward and we think the same thing.”

Scout lists the Illinois class No. 32 nationally.  247 sports has the Illini at 44, Rivals at 46.  The Illini added speed, athleticism and got bigger, with several lineman on both sides of the ball weighing more than 275 pounds.

“We always talk about where do you start building a team?  It’s up front on both sides of the ball and we signed 10 lineman today and it has to start there,” added Smith.  “The foundation starts from there and I think we touched on every position on our football team, adding guys.  We have a couple of other spots still open so things pretty much went the way we wanted them to.”

The Illini got six 4-star players, including several from Illinois.  Brother Rice receiver Ricky Smalling is expected to contribute immediately.  

“I just want to come in this summer, work hard, earn my spot, and play as a true freshman,” Smalling said.
 
Peoria defensive lineman Kendrick Green is another 4-star player who says he wants to play right away.  Green won a state championship at Memorial Stadium in the fall and is looking forward to playing there on Saturday’s for the next four years.
 
“It’s awesome that it’s official, I’m a Fighting Illini now,” Green said.  “To stay in state, Coach Lovie Smith, playing for him and their whole coaching staff used to be in the professionals and you learn from the best, that’s how I feel about it.”
 
Smith and his staff also focused their recruiting efforts on the St. Louis era, signing three players from there.  Trinity Catholic offensive lineman Larry Boyd says he knew from the start Illinois was the place for him.
 
“They didn’t have a pitch,” Boyd said.  “It was a family, everything was just so family, it was great. Coach Lovie Smith, Coach Thad, everybody.  I love the whole coaching staff and everybody at Illinois.”
 
Several coaches on Smith’s staff have NFL experience, led by Lovie who coaches the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before arriving at Illinois.  That’s what sold Louisville, Kentucky cornerback Nate Hobbs, along with the fact that Smith is trying to rebuild a program that’s only been to two bowl games the last five years.
 
“I think they’re building something special there at Illinois and our class, we’re just coming in to change the program and I just thought it would be special,” Hobbs said.

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