CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois signing class isn't particularly big at 18 players. And packed with primarily two- and three-star recruits, it isn't highly rated.
But second-year head coach Tim Beckman said Wednesday he hopes a group heavy on defense and receivers and peppered with junior college transfers will fill some of the holes on a team that went 4-8 in 2013. Illinois' defense was among the Big ten's worst, the team lacked depth and what it did have tended to be young. One of the team's relative strengths — receivers — was thinned by graduation.
The junior college players include two defensive linemen in Jihad Ward (6-6, 295) and Joe Fotu (6-3, 275), linebacker Carroll Phillips (6-3, 225) and receivers Geronimo Allison (6-3, 185) and Tyrin Stone-Davis (6-3, 195).
"They're brought in here, especially with the depth scenario that we have, so they can come in here and make an impact," Beckman said.
The best players coming straight out of high school include two more receivers from Illinois, Malik Turner from Sacred-Heart Griffin High School in Springfield and Mike Dudek from Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville.
Recruiting experts don't appear to be impressed. Rivals.com ranks Illinois' class 11th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Purdue's.
But the Illini have a potentially top-notch addition already on campus.
Quarterback Wes Lunt sat out 2013 after transferring from Oklahoma State. The Rochester, Ill., native isn't a lock to take over for Nathan Scheelhaase, but he's a strong candidate after starting games as a freshman for the Cowboys in 2012 before an injury.