CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Art Sitkowski can still remember the first time he met Tommy DeVito, almost a decade ago at a Division III university in Northern New Jersey.

“It was a July 4th workout and it’s where I first met Tommy at William Patterson,” Sitkowski recalled after Tuesday’s practice, the fourth of Illini training camp. “We were just throwing.”

“We had the same quarterback coach at the time,” DeVito added. “So every Saturday we’d have quarterback workouts, quarterback clinics. So we’d always see each other on Saturdays and compete.”

Now years after that friendly competition, the two are locked in another one, this time with much higher stakes. By all accounts DeVito is the front runner to land the starting job under center when Illinois opens the season Aug. 27 against Wyoming at Memorial Stadium. The Syracuse transfer has just one year of college eligibility remaining and was brought in to bolster a room that currently only has three scholarship quarterbacks on it.

“I felt we needed a more veteran quarterback, someone who could come in,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said about the decision to bring in a grad transfer. “So I brought Art in, and I told him, ‘Hey, I’ve been talking to a guy named Tommy DeVito. I’m sure you know him.’ And he kind of rolled, smiled with his eyes and said, ‘Yeah I know him coach.'”

“When he (DeVito) came on his visit, we reconnected,” Sitkowski said. “I remember I was in the weight room and he came walking in like, ‘Hey what’s up dude?’ He hasn’t changed much, he’s very genuine in his personality. He hasn’t changed much.”

“Obviously he (Sitkowski) went through some bumps and bruises at Rutgers, the same way I kind of did at Syracuse,” added DeVito. “For us to be able to talk and relate to each other, it was really good for us and it’s really good for us right now.”

While some might assume the competition could sour the relationship between Jersey kids, both DeVito and Sitkowski aren’t letting the battle get to them. In fact, they’re embracing their Garden State roots in the middle of the Midwest.

“It’s crazy how life works man, now we’re in the same place,” Sitkowski said.

“It’s crazy, it’s funny how people’s paths cross,” said DeVito. “We’ve always had a good relationship and it’s only gotten stronger now.”

The Illini staff is encouraging competition in camp, with Bielema saying he might not publicly announce a starter until the first game, but adding the team will know by the Sunday of game week who will be QB1 against the Cowboys.