GILMAN (WCIA) — Iroquois West junior Clayton Leonard made an instant connection with Illinois head coach Bret Bielema.
“I mentioned that we used to show pigs, and so did he,” Leonard said. “Well, he used to raise them. We had a really cool conversation about that.”
The two talked more than pigs in their first phone call less than two weeks ago. The new Illini coach was selling Leonard on the future of his program with in-state kids like the 6-foot-4, 265-pound guard. The only reason the call took place was because Leonard stayed up until 3 a.m. editing highlights from his first game back after a torn ACL to send to colleges, including Illini offensive line coach Bart Miller.
“I was expecting a, ‘Hey, looks good,'” Leonard said. “He (Miller) said, ‘Hey, I’m going to show this to Coach B.’ It was later that day he called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to offer you.'”
Leonard’s only has one other offer, from Central Michigan. But his high school coaches knew he had potential early on.
“We realized he had that opportunity to play at the Division I level his freshman year,” Iroquois West head coach Jason Thiele said. “Before he was injured, he would go to the camps, the Rivals Invitationals and he would do really well. We knew right at the beginning he was able to compete at that level.”
“When I started realizing I have the talent to go there, it became my goal to play in the Big Ten,” Leonard said.
Other Big Ten schools have called, including Northwestern and Iowa. Leonard says his decision might be coming soon.
“Maybe within the next couple weeks, just seeing what else is out there,” he said. “But the U of I’s looking strong.”
And Clayton may not be the only Leonard to play at the next level. His little brother Cannon is already catching some eyes, standing at 6-foot-9 as just a sophomore.