- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Illinois Fighting Illini
Recruits: 20 (19 high school seniors, one junior college player, three players enrolled early)
Top prospects: Chandler Whitmer gives the Illini another option at quarterback as the team tries to replace four-year starter Juice Williams. Wide receiver Darius Millines, a last-minute addition, bolsters the receiving corps, while safety Earnest Thomas will get a chance to play right away in the secondary.
Sleepers: Linebacker Mark Wilson should help a group that regains the services of Martez Wilson this fall. Arguably the team's most intriguing prospect is junior college safety Trulon Henry, the younger brother of former Illinois star Arrelious Benn. Henry served nearly five years in prison for armed robbery but has turned his life around and should help in the secondary.
Needs met: Time will tell if Illinois addressed its need in the secondary, as players like Henry and Thomas need to contribute right away. Losing safety Corey Cooper to Nebraska hurt, but embattled head coach Ron Zook and his new-look staff closed recruiting well with players like Millines and Brandon Denmark. The wide receiver position should once again be strong this season.
Analysis: The class isn't drawing high marks, which puts pressure on the coaching staff to develop players for a make-or-break 2010 season. Illinois held onto Whitmer, which could be key, and finished strong after the class looked bleak in early December. If the defensive recruits can come in and contribute this fall, Illinois might be able to stabilize itself on that side of the ball.
Scouts Inc. grade: C-minus
What Ron Zook said:
"The strengths are the linemen and obviously the receivers. If you go back and you look at who we lost, we filled in the positions. ... Hopefully, we're getting to a point where we don't have to continually count on freshmen playing. Although I think there will be some guys [in this class] who have a pretty good opportunity to do that."
"Darius [Millines] is an unbelievable athlete, he can run like a deer. He probably surprised a lot of people down there because he committed early to West Virginia. Doc Holliday really had a great relationship with him, and he's at Marshall now. I think he has a chance to be a special guy. Jarred Fayson said, 'Coach, he's one of us.' That makes me feel good."
"There's been a lot of negative recruiting going on, but that's part of it. People don't have to say anything. They just take the articles that are written and show them. You're defending your manhood, you're defending everything about you every time you go out there."