A recurring theme among high school prospects making the trip to Champaign to visit Illinois is the esprit de corps in the program. Tim Beckman and his staff don't shy away from showcasing that culture during events like the junior day they held last weekend.
Among the visitors was 2015 receiver Flynn Nagel from Lemont (Ill.), the number No. 7 player in his class in the state of Illinois. Nagel and the other recruits got the usual tour of the campus and facilities and stayed for the Illini basketball game vs. Iowa.
But the highlight of the weekend, according to Nagel (5-foot-11, 178 pounds) and several others interviewed by Orange and Blue News, was the chance to hang out with the players and get a feel for what it's like to be a student-athlete at Illinois.
"Chris Boles was our host, and he was also staying with Reilly O'Toole, Matt LaCosse, Donovonn Young, and Pat Flavin," Nagel said. "The family atmosphere is off the charts. They were some of the nicest, most respectful guys I've ever met. It was really great just getting to know what college life is like and getting to spend some time with the guys on the team."
Other top in-state talent was also on campus, including fellow wide receivers Miles Boykin and Leon Thornton. By design, it was a smaller group on Saturday than Illinois invited for their earlier junior day in January, giving visitors a chance to spend a lot of one-on-one time with the coaching staff.
"We got to talk to the coaches a lot," Nagel said. "It was unbelievable to get to talk to them again - just how comfortable I am with the coaching staff. We got a quick tour of the campus and got to meet some of the guys on the team and some other prospects, and then we went to the basketball game."
Perhaps the biggest news from the event was the commitment of local quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald from Champaign (Ill.) Centennial. Nagel is very familiar with Fitzgerald - they both work out with Core 6 Athletics, a Chicago-based football training program.
Nagel and Fitzgerald will team up on the Core 6 7-on-7 squad this summer.
"The first time I ever threw with Jimmy was down at the (Rivals250) Underclassmen Challenge in Texas last summer," Nagel said. "We threw a couple of one-on-one's there. Even though he lives two hours away from me, we are throwing once a weekend at Core 6. We are going to compete nationally this year and Jimmy is going to be the quarterback of that team."
Illinois has offered Nagel, joining Indiana, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan. Schools showing interest include Vanderbilt, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri, Duke, Boston College, Minnesota, Arkansas, Stanford, Penn State, and Notre Dame.
Rivals.com lists Nagel as a 3-star prospect and the No. 42 wide receiver in the 2015 class. He was recently named one of the top performers at the annual Core 6 Showcase.
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According to Nagel, Illinois emphasized their heavy focus on getting the in-state players - and prospects from surrounding states - to sign with the Orange and Blue.
"Illinois wants players who are close to the school, and I believe that's a good strategy," Nagel said. "They said there is enough talent in that 5-hour radius to win a Big Ten championship - they really believe that, and I really believe that. We have proven in Illinois that we have some of the top talent in the country."
So far, Tim Beckman's team has yet to break out, though they did make progress during the 2013 campaign - increasing the win total to 4 games and finishing fifth in the Big Ten in total offense under first year coordinator Bill Cubit.
Nagel believes Illinois is poised to take the next step this fall. Like very player, he wants to be part of a winning program and if Illinois continues to improve they will remain strongly in the mix until the end.
"I think this next season is going to be a good season for them." He said. "Guys talk about other schools based on the win-loss factor. That's going to be a factor for me, but it's not the only factor - it won't make or break my decision. Illinois improved, their offensive definitely improved. The numbers don't lie."
Signing day 2015 is still a year away, and Nagel plans to take his time and make an informed college choice.
"I don't plan on a real early decision," Nagel said. "Some guys ride it all the way out to signing day - I don't think I'm going to be that kind of guy, but I'm not going to commit within the next month or anything. I'm going to take it into the offseason and see what I want to do this summer."
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