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Illini officially add 27-year-old USC grad assistant as DL coach

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For the most recent hire to his Illinois coaching staff, Lovie Smith decided to go young.  Really, really, really young.

Following up on reports from earlier in the week, the Fighting Illini confirmed that Austin Clark has been hired by Smith as his new defensive line coach. Clark spent the last two seasons as a defensive graduate assistant at USC, working specifically with both the Trojans’ defensive line and linebackers.

At 27 years old — he’ll be 28 in August — Clark is one of the youngest on-field assistants at the FBS level.

“Austin Clark came in for his interview and just blew us away with his enthusiasm and detail,” Smith said in a statement. “He brings an outstanding attitude and high level of energy to our program. Our players are going to love working with Austin. He is extremely detailed and has a plan for each of the guys on the defensive line. Austin gained some great experience in his previous position, and will be a terrific addition to our staff.”

Clark began his coaching career in 2015 as a recruiting assistant at his alma mater Cal, where he played defensive tackle for six injury-plagued years from 2009-14.

Just two (of 347) four-star 2018 recruits didn’t put pen to FBS paper during signing periods

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National Signing Days (plural) 2018 may have run its course, but the Herbie Hancocking of National Letters of Intent hasn’t quite ended yet for some.

Entering Wednesday, four of 247Sports.com‘s 29 five-star 2018 recruits were unsigned; suffice to say, all four of those exited having signed with various Power Five programs.  That same recruiting service listed a whopping 347 prospects as four-star recruits.  With the second signing day in the books, just two of those didn’t sign with FBS teams — Denton (TX) wide receiver Gabriel Douglas and Detroit (MI) center Tyrone Sampson Jr.

Douglas, rated as the No. 51 receiver and No. 312 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board, had been committed to Texas Tech since October of 2016.  However, the day before Signing Day, Gabriel decided against signing with the Red Raiders and instead plans to attend a Mississippi junior college.

The No. 7 center in the country and No. 346 recruit overall, Sampson had reportedly zeroed in on Arizona State, Mississippi State and Nebraska as likely destinations.  Sampson’s high school coach, however, told the Detroit News that a couple of new schools, including Illinois, Missouri and West Virginia, had entered the picture recently and prompted the player to hold off on signing.

“It’s a case where he had a couple of schools come in real late so he won’t be able to visit until after the dead period, maybe next week,” East English Coach Rod Oden told the News.

In addition to Sampson and Douglas, six other recruits, all three-star prospects, listed in the Top 600 of 247Sports.com‘s composite board went unsigned by FBS programs for various reasons as well.

  • No. 415: Salt Lake City (Utah) outside linebacker Salua Masina — No. 25 at his position, No. 7 in his state
  • No. 521: Ramsey (NJ) strongside defensive end Marcellus Earlington — No. 23 at his position, No. 11 in his state
  • No. 533: Harrisburg (PA) athlete Shaquon Anderson-Butts — No. 39 at his position, No. 16 in his state
  • No. 547: Tampa (FL) athlete Jermaine Eskridge — No. 40 at his position, No. 85 in his state
  • No. 568: Murfreesboro (TN) defensive tackle D’Andre Litaker — No. 43 at his position, No. 17 in his state
  • No. 580: Philadelphia (PA) safety Isheem Young — No. 38 at his position, No. 19 in his state

Of that group, Eskridge, who had Ohio State and Oregon among others chasing him, and Anderson-Butts, a one-time Penn State commitopted for the JUCO route and are expected to sign with an FBS program during the 2019 cycle.  Litaker, meanwhile, decommitted from Tennessee in the days leading up to signing day and will now consider such schools as Miami and Oklahoma as well as a couple of SEC programs.  The defensive lineman, whose mother passed away in 2016, is also recovering from a second torn ACL he suffered last September.

And Young?  In early December, he was arrested in connection with the armed robbery of a Wawa convenience store in South Philadelphia this past summer.  At the time of his arrest, Young, who was a Penn State commit, was rated as the No. 12 safety in the country; the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania; and the No. 151 player overall.  He went from a four-star to three-star recruit because of the off-field issues.

Former Notre Dame DL coach one of two hired by Colorado State

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Just a few days before National Signing Day kicks off, Mike Bobo has put the finishing touches on filling the holes on his Colorado State coaching staff.

The football program confirmed Wednesday in a press release that Bobo has hired Chase Gibson and Keith Gilmore as assistant coaches Nos. 9 and 10.  The former will coach linebackers, while the latter will handle the defensive line.

Additionally, Gibson will take on the role of special teams coordinator for the Rams.

From 2009-16, Gilmore served as the line coach at three different Power Five football programs, most recently at Notre Dame from 2015-16.  He also spent time in the same capacity at North Carolina (2013-14) and Illinois (2009-12).

The past two seasons, Gibson was the linebackers coach at FCS Eastern Kentucky.  His only job at the FBS level came as a quality control/assistant secondary coach at Tennessee with John Jancek, who was named defensive coordinator at CSU in the middle of last month.

Illinois defensive line coach Mike Phair reportedly returning to NFL

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Lovie Smith’s coaching staff will have several new faces as Illinois enters a crucial 2018 campaign.

FootballScoop is reporting that Illini defensive line coach Mike Phair is stepping down from his position after three seasons on staff and is set to return to the NFL. The report says he will be the defensive line coach with the Indianapolis Colts, who are expected to hire New England Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels as the team’s new head coach after the Super Bowl next weekend on NBC.

In addition to Phair’s departure, it was announced earlier on Thursday that offensive analyst Nate Scheelhaase was hired by Iowa State to coach running backs.

Phair was originally hired in Champaign by Tim Beckman but never coached with him after the latter was fired just prior to the 2015 season. Phair was promoted to defensive coordinator that year by interim coach Bill Cubit and was retained by Smith to oversee the line the past two years.

The long time assistant coach also had stops with the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks over the years. Phair developed two draft picks during his short tenure at Illinois (Jihad Ward and Dawuane Smoot) while brining along a very young unit in 2017 for the team.

Iowa State adds Nate Scheelhaase as running backs coach

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It was only six years ago that Nate Scheelhaase was carrying the ball as an Illinois player, now he’ll be teaching others to do the same outside of Champaign as the new running backs coach at Iowa State.

“Nate will be a valuable addition to our staff,” Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said in a statement. “I feel Nate is a rising star in this profession. He is energetic, has a high football I.Q., and will fit in perfectly with our current staff. We can’t wait for Nate to get started here at Iowa State.”

Scheelhaase was a four-year starter at quarterback for the Illini and finished as the program’s all-time leader in total offense. He is familiar with coaching the other position in the backfield however, having served as running backs coach on Bill Cubit’s interim staff in 2015. Lovie Smith retained him after the coaching transition at the school and he’s been working the past two seasons in the off-the-field role of offensive analyst.

It’s a little bit of a state of Illinois swap for Campbell as Scheelhaase replaces Louis Ayeni on ISU’s staff after he left for a spot at his alma mater of Northwestern a few weeks ago. The new Cyclones coach will walk into a good situation in 2018 with junior tailback David Montgomery likely vying for All-Big 12 honors again during the upcoming season.