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January 10, 2005

Budding friendships help motivate Illinois stars

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - The Land of Lincoln is often talked about as being one of the best states in the nation when it comes to producing talent, on the basketball court. But at a national all-star game this week in San Antonio, Illinois is definitely taking a major step toward proving that it can also be considered one of the nation's elite football states.

With seven players littering the East roster, Illinois' top prospects believe this week could be an opportunity for them to make a statement to the entire nation. And if the Illinois Seven build a lifelong friendships along the way, then that's something else they can take with them from the event.

"It's true that we get a bad rap," Lockport, Ill., four-star quarterback Jake Christensen said. "People for some reason think that since we're from Illinois that we're slower than guys from California. But we've got seven guys in the game, and we're all going to play well. I think we're going to show some people how good we really are."

Plus, they plan to show everybody how athletic they are.

"In a way you're going to see that our guys from Illinois are basketball like," Wheaton (Ill.) Warensville South four-star offensive tackle Dace Richardson said.

"You'd think with big guys like me, Dan (Doering) and Ryan Bain that we'd all be a bunch of slower guys since we're so big. But the thing I noticed in practice is that we all really get off the ball well, and we explode like we're on the basketball court."

Christensen agrees that Saturday's game could be a chance for the Illinois players to strut their stuff.

"I came here to prove a point," Christensen, who is 6-foot and 200 pounds, said. "I know a lot of the other guys did, too. We all wanted to show everybody that we can compete with everybody in the nation in the national spotlight. This game will give us that opportunity."

Along with Richardson, Christensen, Bain and Doering, tight end Anthony Moeaki, running back Rashard Mendenhall and defensive back Garrett Seeger make up the rest of the Illinois Seven. All but Seeger are ranked in the top 10 of the Rivals.com Illinois Top 30.

What's also unique about the Illinois Seven is that they've build friendships throughout the recruiting process and there is a good opportunity that five of them could be playing at the same school together.

Christensen has been a long-time commitment to Iowa, and he's been doing his best recruiting job on Richardson, Bain, Doering and Moeaki. Many close to the situation think that Richardson, Bain and Doering could commit to the Hawkeyes this weekend at the game.

"I'm confident that we'll have a couple of commits on Saturday," Christensen said. "I think it's been a real good recruiting year for us. I think the top class in the Big 10 is something in our grasp, and we're going to get it barring a malfunction."

But landing all these Illinois studs is something that Christensen has been predicting since the day he committed to Iowa. When Richardson first heard that prediction he was a little taken back.

"When he committed, I saw on Rivals that he made that statement," Richardson said. "I thought he was a little cocky, but quarterbacks can be that way. Every time I see him, it's Hawkeyes, Hawkeyes, Hawkeyes. I saw him early this morning wearing a Hawkeye shirt and in then in the afternoon he was wearing a Hawkeye hat. He was doing his job. He's always been promoting Iowa, and we've definitely been listening."

Richardson said he's not ready to officially tip his hand quite yet. He said he's still undecided between Iowa, Tennessee and Michigan, but he hopes to officially make up his mind on Thursday before he announces his decision on Saturday.

Even if they for some reason don't end up together in Iowa City, both Richardson and Christensen said they've developed friendships with all of the guys from Illinois that are bound to last forever.

"We're really close to each other," Richardson said. "It would be fun since we've grown so close to each other throughout this process if we end up all at the same place. Even if we don't go to the same schools I'll still check them out and see how they're doing and call them up. We're always going to be friends after football."

And those friends have been clearly defined with different roles.

Christensen is the "leader" according to Richardson. Richardson is known as the silent assassin because as Christensen said "Dace comes off quiet but you can't ever under estimate him." Bain is hands down the clown in the bunch.

"I don't know what he does, but he can just look at him some times and he just makes you laugh," Christensen said. "I get along with him great. I think he's such a great guy. I can't wait to get out there on the field Saturday, play with my good friends and show the nation what we're all about."


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