football Edit

Bret Bielema’s first five recruiting calls

Kaleb Brown
Kaleb Brown (

Illinois named Bret Bielema its head coach on Saturday, bringing him back to the Big Ten where he won three conference titles with Wisconsin from 2010-12. A native of Illinois, Bielema should know the recruiting landscape in this region well. Here we look at the first recruiting calls he should make when he settles into his office in Champaign.


RELATED: Illinois hires Bret Bielema as new head coach

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2022 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

COVERAGE: Rivals Transfer Tracker | Rivals Camp Series



Darren Sunkett, East St. Louis head coach

One of the recruiting issues that doomed Lovie Smith at Illinois was not successfully recruiting the Illini’s backyard. Top high school coaches in the state lamented that they would not see anyone from his staff show up at their schools for years. That cannot be Bielema’s approach if he is going to have success at Illinois.

I am specifically citing Sunkett here, but he is representative of top high school coaches throughout Illinois and the greater St. Louis area. These have to be foundational recruiting territories for Illinois, and the East St. Louis program, specifically, should be a frequent stop. Right away I would put offers into the hands of 2023 cornerback Ahmad Robinson and 2023 offensive linemen Miles McVay and Paris Patterson, but there are other up-and-coming talents at that program who should get a strong look.

The key here is to make sure coaches like Sunkett know they are a priority for your coaching staff and that their players are going to get your first evaluations when building a class.

Chevalier Brenson

Illinois was able to hang onto and sign the majority of its commitments in this 2021 class even in the aftermath of Lovie Smith’s dismissal, but one who decommitted was St. Louis receiver Chevalier Brenson. A late-emerging prospect in this class, Brenson was considered one of the Illini’s top commits before Smith was fired. In just six games this past season, Brenson caught 32 passes for 545 yards and nine touchdowns. He is a tall, athletic receiver who could turn into a quarterback’s best friend, especially in the red zone. Brenson did not sign elsewhere in the early period and remains uncommitted.

Available 2021 running backs

After taking over Arkansas’ program late in the class of 2013 recruiting cycle, Bielema would go on to add three running backs to that class. Included in that group was four-star Alex Collins, who would go on to rush for over 1,000 yards in his first three seasons with the Razorbacks. Running back is one of the recruiting holes Illinois did not fill with its first 14 signees in the 2021 class.

The state of Illinois had several strong options at the position that Smith’s staff either passed on, got out-recruited for or just stopped recruiting. Bielema has usually preferred bigger backs, and prospects like Kyree Young or junior college three-star Tavion Thomas fit that mold. Both of those prospects could be immediate contributors, but have questions marks that may not make them ideal fits. Another option in-state is three-star Tajheem Lawson. Although not a big back, Lawson is an explosive home run hitter who can give your running back room immediate depth and he can also help in the return game.

Myles Mooyoung

A former defensive coordinator and recently a defensive assistant with the NFL’s New York Giants, I expect Bielema to look for pieces to fill current holes on the Illinois defense. Myles Mooyoung is a prospect who is uniquely suited to addressing holes in a defensive roster. He may not have the sky-high ceiling, but he is versatile and reliable. Mooyoung has shown he can play pretty much anywhere in the defensive backfield, but he could also fit in some of those hybrid safety/linebacker roles many defenses employ. Defensive players with versatility are very valuable to head coaches implementing new schemes. Mooyoung’s recruitment has run hot and cold over the last year or so, but he would help improve that in-state image. He is originally from Chicago and only played his senior season in Michigan when the state of Illinois cancelled its fall high school season.

Kaleb Brown

If Illinois cannot recruit four-star prospects from its own state, it is going to have trouble recruiting that caliber of talent from anywhere in the country. Brown is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the state of Illinois’ 2022 class. He already has a well-developed recruitment going that features programs like Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State, but Bielema should not shy away from trying to push the Illini into the mix there. Illinois was actually the first program to offer Brown when he was still a freshman and he has already made recruiting visits to Champaign. The Rivals100 prospect is an explosive offensive talent who could project to running back or receiver in college.