The Illini were light on the top talent in the Land of Lincoln, but the newest class of Illinois football players is signed up in Champaign.
Illinois announced its 2016 signing class Wednesday, a class that didn't earn much acclaim from those ranking such things but one that coach Bill Cubit is excited about nonetheless.
Cubit's job certainly wasn't an easy one, needing to attempt to keep commitments from before Tim Beckman was fired and to put together an entire class with a coaching staff in big-time transition. Plus, there was great attention paid to the fact that Cubit is under just a two-year contract, something that impacts recruiting.
"It is what it is, and I think we went out there and sold the good points," Cubit told Mike Hall in an interview on Big Ten Network. "We're an outstanding academic school. We're a program, we think, on the rise. We've got some kids that can come in and play early. But I think the biggest thing was getting our staff to evaluate, communicate. We spent four days from 7 to 7 in that timeframe when we got the new staff, understand what we needed to do, attacking the issues that could come up during recruiting. I brought them up first. I didn't want them to come out and ask. I brought them up. I know the commitment that our university has in us right now, and that's all it takes. College football right now, you better win quickly, we all know that. I didn't think it was that big of an issue at this point."
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But the Illini have a 25-member Class of 2016, one featuring eight three-star recruits headlining the group.
The highest-ranked recruits in the class came from outside Illinois, with Cubit bringing in a pair of talented defenders from Maryland in defensive end Izon Pulley and linebacker Dele Harding. Harding was ranked by Rivals as the No. 20 player in the Old Line State. Pulley, who decommitted from Miami, was the No. 40 weakside defensive end in the country, per Rivals, and the No. 21 player in Maryland. Two tight ends — Zarrian Holcombe from Texas and Andrew Trainer from Virginia — added to the Illini's out-of-state haul. Trainer was ranked as the No. 24 player in the state of Virginia.
Illinois' top in-state recruit was offensive lineman Kurt Gavin out of Lincoln-Way East. Gavin is ranked as the No. 35 prospect in the state. Right behind him is another Illinois signee, East St. Louis defensive back Stanley Green, the No. 36 player in the state.
The Illini did add one quarterback in this class: three-star recruit Eli Peters out of Jacksonville, Fla. And the last of Illinois' eight three-star recruits was offensive lineman Eddy Fish from Massachusetts.
Obviously with only four members of this year's class from Illinois, Cubit is looking to improve his in-state recruiting efforts moving forward.
"The biggest goal is recruiting the state," he told Hall. "To me, when you recruit the state, it's at least a 14-month process. We started in December, and a lot of times during recruiting (the Class of) 2016 I told the staff I wanted to go by myself, go up into Illinois and just go in there and attack that in December and January. We had a big junior day here, we had over 200 kids come to our junior day. Today we wanted to put the image and visualization of our in-state prospects, thinking of how they can sign with the Illini, having that orange and blue hat on signing day. And had a lot of kids call today. The process has started. We've just got to keep on building relationships. That to me is the major impact that we've got to get done in the next six months."
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Here is the complete list of Illinois signees in the Class of 2016:
— Tre Nation, RB, Leeds, Ala.
— Tymir Oliver, DL, Sharon Hill, Pa.
— Stanley Green, DB, East St. Louis, Ill.
— M.J. McGriff, WR, Vero Beach, Fla.
— Dele Harding, LB, Elkton, Md.
— Brandon Jones, DL, Columbia, Mo.
— Harvey Clayton, DB, Miami, Fla.
— Kenyon Jackson, DL, Little Rock, Ark.
— Darta Lee, OL, Fresno, Texas
— Dom Thieman, WR, Wilton Manors, Fla.
— Andrew Trainer, TE, Alexandria, Va.
— Eddy Fish, OL, Groton, Mass.
— Zarrian Holcombe, TE, Houston, Texas
— Ayo Shogbonyo, LB, Arlington, Texas
— Griffin Palmer, TE, St. Charles, Mo.
— Kurt Gavin, OL, Mokena, Ill.
— Izon Pulley, DL, Olney, Md.
— Jake Cerny, OL, Traverse City, Mich.
— James McCourt, K, Parkland, Fla.
— Evan Jones, DB, Conyers, Ga.
— Jake Hansen, LB, Tarpon Springs, Fla.
— Christion Abercrombie, LB, Atlanta, Ga.
— Amhari Hayes, DB, Davis, Calif.
— Eli Peters, QB, Jacksonville, Fla.
— Trenard Davis, DB, Boynton Beach, Fla.