Big Ten

Top Illini recruit Jeremiah Tilmon requests release from National Letter of Intent after coaching change

Top Illini recruit Jeremiah Tilmon requests release from National Letter of Intent after coaching change

The commitment of Jeremiah Tilmon to Illinois last summer was the biggest splash in a big-time recruiting class for John Groce.

But a lot has happened since, most importantly Groce being fired and replaced with Brad Underwood, sparking Tilmon to reconsider his commitment to the Illini.

Tilmon, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball in Champaign, announced Wednesday that he's requested a release from that letter.

"Thank you University of Illinois athletics for understanding my position as a future student-athlete that signed to play for coach Groce but has requested a release from NLI since coaching changes," Tilmon posted Wednesday afternoon on Instagram. "My family and I feel it's only fair that we hear all opportunities and not be stuck in one situation. We will wait patiently on the release from the NLI.

"Illinois will always remain an option because of my ongoing relationship with (assistant) coach (Jamall) Walker, but this is my future and I need to be certain before I come to campus in June."

While Illini fans will certainly take this as a bout of bad news, it's perfectly understandable considering the circumstances and not infrequent in college athletics. Tilmon committed to Groce and signed his National Letter of Intent while Groce was still the coach. Groce is now gone.

Tilmon could very well still end up in Champaign, but now other schools can re-enter the mix.

Tilmon is ranked as a five-star center and the No. 25 player in the Class of 2017 by Rivals. He was the most notable member of a loaded recruiting class for Groce that also included four-star guards Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams as well as three-star guard Javon Pickett. Fans and observers are also still watching closely to see if four-star guard Mark Smith — also being recruited by Walker — will make this blockbuster class even better.

Rivals currently ranks the Illini's 2017 class as one of the top 15 in the country.

Underwood and athletics director Josh Whitman both said during press conferences that they planned to reach out to all the members of this year's highly ranked Illinois recruiting class. And the reported retention of Walker as one of Underwood's assistants figures to be important in trying to keep Tilmon a future Illini.

But now there's another waiting game to be played.

As for the other members of that class, they have made it known that they're committed to Underwood and the Illini.

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.


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