Four-star prospect Darrin Kirkland Jr. was one of the top Illinois targets in the class of 2015 to make the trip to Champaign for the Illini's game vs. Wisconsin on Saturday.
Kirkland is a 6-foot-2, 215 linebacker from Indianapolis Lawrence Central High School.
"It was my first time going to Champaign and I really enjoyed myself," Kirkland said. "I met all of the coaches from the head coach all the way down to the graduate assistants, so I had a really good time."
With six early offers in the books, Kirkland has been making the rounds. He made stops this football season at Ohio State, Indiana, Louisville, and Purdue. After the trip to Illinois, Kirkland talked about the one thing that stood out to him about the Illini.
"How genuine the staff is," Kirkland said. "I have a good relationship with them, and I feel like I can deal with them well over these next several months before I make a (college) decision. "
That decision will likely come next summer before Kirkland's senior year of high school. He will make some more visits in the off season and will definitely pick up more offers along the way.
"No favorites yet," Kirkland said. "The schools that I have offers from are all the same - Virginia Tech, Louisville, Indiana, Illinois, Akron, and Toledo. I haven't really decided on where else to go. I'm focused on the season. We are in the playoffs. I'm going to do the best I can there, and hopefully after the season I'll make some more visits."
According to Kirkland, Illinois should be right there in the mix all the way to the end. He has an Illini connection - his uncle Aaron Shelby was a linebacker on the Illini's 1990 squad, and that connection carries over to the Illinois staff.
Early playing time is available on the Illini's defense, something the staff was keen to point out to Kirkland on his visit.
"(Receiver coach) Mike Bellamy is real close with my uncle," Kirkland said. "They were on the same team when they won the Big Ten championship in 1990.
"They talked to me about being a game-changer. They said they need playmakers on defense; just good athletes. They said I could come in and make an impact early, so I was really excited about that."
Kirkland was the only state of Indiana prospect to make the Rivals250 to Watch list presented by Under Armour for the class of 2015. He will try to help his team avenge a 28-7 loss to rival Warren Central on Friday in the IHSAA Class 6A playoffs.
He plays inside linebacker at Lawrence Central, but Kirkland's forte is speed and quickness.
"I bring athleticism," Kirkland said. "I'm a good blitzer and I attack the ball well. I have good ball skills - I have a couple of interceptions this season. I just try to make plays all over the field."
Click Here to view this video.