CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — From the day Bret Bielema was hired, his priority in recruiting was on the State of Illinois. Fast forward nearly one year and the Illini football coach is following through on his word. Bielema and his staff signed 10 players from the Land of Lincoln on Wednesday on the opening day of the early signing period. Out of the 22 total players signed in the Class of 2022, seven states are represented but the 10 guys from Illinois are the most in a recruiting cycle for the Illini since 2017.
In that group of 10, three are from the WCIA 3 viewing area in Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley running back Aidan Laughery, Rochester receiver Hank Beatty and Iroquois West offensive lineman Clayton Leonard. Laughery committed to play for Bielema live on WCIA 3 in July, making it official on Wednesday, signing his National Letter of Intent during a ceremony in his school gym.
“Really putting the pen to the paper, that makes it really real,” Laughery said. “Our commit group chat in recent weeks has been poppin.’ We got some things we can work on, and we’re impressed with what the staff has came in and done, so I think we’re all just super excited for the opportunity to come in and be a part of what Coach B is planning to do here.”
Leonard also had a ceremony in Gilman, after committing to the Illini back in April. The 6-foot-4, 265 pound lineman could play either guard or tackle for the Illini, Bielema said on Wednesday.
“I just wanted to be a part of that tradition,” Leonard said. “Being in-state and at the University of Illinois, and just playing in the Big Ten. Illinois is state that if everybody from here played on one team, we could win the Big Ten Championships year in and year out., and that’s what we’re planning to do at the University of Illinois.”
At Rochester, Hank Beatty signed his NLI in front of family and friends. The 3-star prospect played both quarterback and receiver for the Rockets but will focus on wideout with the Illini, something he says he’s excited about.
“Kind of a dream true cause ever since I was a little kid I always wanted to play college football and getting to play for my home state is awesome,” Beatty said. “I’m just excited to finally get it done. I’m definitely looking to fit into my role there, kinda get the playbook down. Definitely excited to go back to receiver. Quarterback was fun but I think I enjoyed receiver a little more.”
Overall, Bielema and his staff focused on finding in-state players and guys from winning programs. The Class of 2022 ranks 11th in the Big Ten and 44th nationally, according to 247Sports.
“We put an emphasis on winning in your background,” Bielema said. “It’s not an end all be all but we want to win here and I think to change the culture of what’s been behind us, we have to cultivate on the front end so the more kids that understand what winning is, coming on the front end and won’t tolerate losing I think goes a long, long way.”
NAME POS. HT. WT. YR. HOMETOWN HIGH SCHOOL/PREVIOUS SCHOOL
Isaiah Adams OL 6-5 310 Jr. Ajax, Ontario, Canada McLellan Catholic/Garden City CC (Kan.)
Jordan Anderson RB 6-3 230 Fr. Naperville, Ill. Joliet Catholic
Owen Anderson TE 6-5 235 Fr. Skillman, N.J. The Hun School
Jared Badie OLB 6-4 220 Fr. Aurora, Ill. Oswego East
Hank Beatty WR 5-11 180 Fr. Rochester, Ill. Rochester
Henry Boyer TE 6-7 240 Fr. Chicago, Ill. Brother Rice
Matt Fries OL 6-5 285 Fr. Cranford, N.J. Cranford
TJ Griffin DB 6-1 190 Fr. Hickory Hills, Ill. Amos Alonzo Stagg
Ashton Hollins WR 6-4 170 Fr. Lucedale, Miss. George County
Malachi Hood LB 6-2 210 Fr. Plainfield, Ill. Joliet Catholic
Gabe Jacas OLB 6-4 245 Fr. Port St. Lucie, Fla. Fort Pierce Central
James Kreutz LB 6-1 205 Fr. Lake Forest, Ill. Loyola Academy
Aidan Laughery RB 5-11 187 Fr. Gibson City, Ill. GCMS
Donovan Leary QB 6-3 210 Fr. Sicklerville, N.J. Timber Creek
Clayton Leonard OL 6-4 275 Fr. Danforth, Ill. Iroquois West
Elijah Mc-Cantos DB 6-0 185 Fr. Miami, Fla. Miami Edison
Shawn Miller WR 6-0 193 Fr. Chandler, Ariz. IMG Academy (Fla.)
Magnus Møller OL 6-9 300 Fr. Vejle, Denmark Rødkilde Gymnasium
Joey Okla OL 6-3 300 Fr. Hartford, Wis. Arrowhead
Eian Pugh WR 6-3 175 Fr. Naperville, Ill. Fenwick
Tyson Rooks DB 6-5 180 Fr. St. Simons Island, Ga. Glynn
Hunter Whitenack OL 6-6 315 Fr. New Carlisle, Ind. New Prairie
At Springfield High, Rashad Rochelle officially became a Scarlet Knight, signing his National Letter of Intent to play at Rutgers. The 3-star prospect played quarterback for the Senators but will transition to receiver in Piscataway.
“They just recruited me the hardest and at the end of the day I wanted to go somewhere where I could succeed in a well-developed environment and felt like I could do that at Jersey and Rutgers,” Rochelle said. “It was just the NFL stuff he was talking about, because he knows every kid’s dream is to play in the league and all the connections he has out there is like, ‘Dang, that’s crazy.’ I just want to go out there and play well under him and all his coaching staff and see what we can do.”