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Ex-Nebraska, Virginia Tech QB AJ Bush says he’s headed to Illinois

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Nearly two years after leaving the Big Ten, AJ Bush is back.

Bush confirmed to that he has decided to transfer to Illinois for his final season of eligibility.  The quarterback will be coming to the Fighting Illini as a graduate transfer, meaning he’d be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

It would also mean he’d see his former team on the opposing sidelines this year as the Cornhuskers will play host to the Illini Nov. 10 this year.

This will mark Bush’s fourth college football team, joining Nebraska, an Iowa junior college and Virginia Tech on his winding football journey.

“It’s a great opportunity, just like every other one was great as well,” Bush told the website. “The decisions made before led me to where I am today. So at the end of the day, I can’t be nothing but optimistic about the future. I’m an optimistic person. I never have burned bridges with anybody. It’s always been respect for me wherever I went. I never had any regrets, but you only get one year and you only get one opportunity. I’m fortunately blessed with this one.”

Bush was a three-star 2014 member of Nebraska’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 44 dual-threat quarterback in the country coming out of high school in Georgia.  He also held offers from, among others, Boston College, Cincinnati and Kansas State.

After taking a redshirt his true freshman season, Bush didn’t see the field in 2015 for the Cornhuskers.  In August of 2016, Bush decided to transfer from NU, ultimately winding up at Iowa Western Community College not long after.  After one season at the JUCO, he transferred to Virginia Tech.

In five games last season, Bush completed seven of his 11 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown.  He also ran the ball for 129 yards on 19 carries.

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Four-star 2018 C Tyrone Sampson headed to Fresno State

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All four-star 2018 recruits are officially accounted for.

After the first-ever Early Signing Period in December and the annual National Signing Day earlier this month, just one of 347 four-star recruits remained unsigned by FBS programs. That one, Tyrone Sampson Jr. of Detroit, had reportedly zeroed in on Arizona State, Mississippi State and Nebraska as likely destinations but, instead of signing on the first Wednesday of February, opted instead to continue studying his options as schools such as Illinois, Missouri and West Virginia had entered the picture.

In the end, however, it appears that the one-time Syracuse commit will at least begin his collegiate playing career not at a Power Five program but rather at a Mountain West Conference school according to the offensive lineman as well as his new football coach.

That commitment came shortly after Sampson visited the Bulldogs’ campus.

Sampson was rated as the No. 7 center in the country and the No. 346 recruit overall on‘s composite board. He had been committed to Syracuse for more than eight months before decommitting in December.

Easily the highest-rated member of Jeff Tedford‘s second recruiting class, Sampson is the first four-star recruit signed by the football program since 2015 (wide receiver L.J. Reed) and just the fourth such prospect in the school’s history, joining quarterback Derek Carr (2009) and offensive tackle James Paulk (2005).

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‘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‘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‘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.