CHAMPAIGN — In need of immediate help, University of Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman Wednesday signed five junior college players.
And although the university is not yet announcing them, Beckman is also rounding up early high school graduates who can enroll at the coming semester break.
That will give him a cast of new players who will begin classes in January and can get a head start on the 2013 season by participating in spring practice in March and April.
By the time he can sign his class of high school recruits in February, it’s expected that Beckman will have about 30 new players, possibly making it the largest incoming class in the school’s history.
Beckman cancelled a scheduled press conference Wednesday and said he will wait until January to talk publicly about the early enrollees, a list including Charleston High School defensive back Dillan Cazley, who took eight courses in the fall semester in order to graduate at the semester break. Cazley, an Apollo Conference sprint champion, was named academic all-state by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association.
As for the five junior college additions, Beckman signed wide receiver Martize Barr and offensive lineman Dallas Hinkhouse, who were teammates in leading Iowa Western to the 2012 National Junior College Athletic Association national championship; defensive tackle Abe Cajuste from Victor Valley (Calif.) College, safety Zane Petty from American River (Calif.) College and Eric Finney from College of the Canyons (Calif.), who Beckman projects playing his “star” position, which is a hybrid safety/linebacker.
“These men are coming to Champaign from winning programs around the country,” he said. “There are two national champions and several conference champions in the group. The most exciting thing is that they fill immediate needs for us.
“They all play a different position of need and are spread across all areas of the team.”
After a 2-10 season in 2012, Illinois has many needs. Even before Beckman arrived, the team was considered to be thin at wide receiver, offensive line and the secondary.
Adding a defensive tackle makes sense because on Friday junior Akeem Spence will announce he is leaving school to pursue the National Football League draft. Spence is rated as the 10th best defensive tackle and 45th best overall player available for the draft, according to ESPN’s Scouts Inc.
The good news for Beckman is junior linebacker Jonathan Brown, who finished fifth in tackles despite missing the final three games of the season due to injury, has apparently decided to return for his senior season.
Brown, who led Illinois in tackles in 2011 and who is arguably Illinois’ best defensive player, will team with Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina to make linebacker a position of strength.
Monheim this week was named second-team freshman All-American by Phil Steele. He started 10 games as a true freshman and led Illinois in tackles with 86. Svetina, another true freshman, finished eighth in tackles.
So far, there have been no coaching staff announcements, although new staffs are being assembled around the country and most believe Beckman will make some changes after the disappointing 2012 season.
Martize Barr (6-foot, 190 pounds) WR
Washington, D.C. product had 31 receptions for 498 yards and 5 TDs, helping Iowa Western win the 2012 national junior college championship; played 10 games at New Mexico in 2011, where he also played some at safety;
Beckman on Barr: “Martize (pronounced mar-TEZ) brings a lot of game experience to our group of wide receivers. He has played on both sides of the ball at the Division I level and spent this past season in a very explosive offense at Iowa Western.”
Abe Cajuste (6-3, 290) DT
Ranked the No. 20 junior college defensive tackle in the country, played at Central Connecticut State before transferring to Victor Valley College in California; prepped at North Miami Beach, Fla..
Beckman on Cajuste (pronounced ka-JUST): “Abe gives us a big body on the defensive line. His strength and get-off were the things that we noticed when we originally watched the film.”
Eric Finney (6-1, 205) Star
Has 3 years of eligibility after playing for a season at College of the Canyons (Calif.). Played wide receiver at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., before switching to defense in junior college.
Beckman on Finney: “Eric is a big safety who can play the star (hybrid safety/linebacker) for us. He runs extremely well and will provide depth and competition for us on defense and special teams. Getting Eric here for spring ball was a huge priority for us.”
Dallas Hinkhouse (6-5, 275) OL
Ranked the No. 18 junior college offensive tackle in the country. First-team JC All-American after teaming with Barr to help Iowa Western to the junior college national championship. Team went 11-0 and averaged 62.8 points per game in 2012. Hails from West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley High.
Beckman on Hinkhouse: “We’re excited to have Dallas join our program because we graduated two key players on our offensive line. He has played in two bowl games and won a national championship, making him exactly the kind of guy we want involved in our program.”
Zane Petty (6-1, 190) S
Made 90 tackles and had seven interceptions this past season for American River College (Calif.) after transferring from Colorado State. Ranked the No. 11 junior college safety in the country. Played high school ball at Corning (Calif.) High School.
Beckman on Petty: “Zone fills a critical need for us with the departure of several key seniors in the defensive backfield. We’re excited to see Zane develop into a physical safety in our defense.”