Illinois football has missed out on some talented recruits the last few years, but with Jim Harbaugh leaving for the NFL, this might give us a second chance with some former targets.
Harbaugh leaving Michigan to take the Los Angeles Chargers head coaching job does two things. One, it signals a leadership change at the top for the Wolverines. Two, it allows all Michigan players to have a 30-day window to enter the transfer portal.
This window is big for the players who some teams, like the Illini, have missed out on over the years. Maybe a player doesn’t like former offensive coordinator and now-head coach Sherrone Moore. Or maybe a player just wants to explore the open market now they have won the national championship.
For whatever reason, a player might be looking for a new home. The players that I am about to mention haven’t said they are transferring or want to find a new home. But if these players did hit the open market, I would hope Illinois would target them in the transfer portal.
Here are Michigan players Illinois football should target if they hit the transfer portal
1. Deakon Tonielli
- Tight End
- (R) Freshman
- Oswego, Illinois
- Oswego High School
Illinois needs to use the tight end position more, as it is a safety blanket for any quarterback. We have done a great job adding some tight end help this offseason, but snagging someone like Deakon Tonielli out of the transfer portal would be amazing.
Tonielli is a 6-foot-5, 251-pound tight end from Oswego High School in Illinois. Coming out of the class of 2023, Tonielli was rated as a four-star recruit and ranked as the No. 414 player in his class. He was also the No. 20 tight end in the country and the No. 6 player coming out of Illinois.
Bret Bielema and the Illini coaching staff wanted Tonielli in Champaign. He took three official visits, Purdue, Michigan, and Illinois. The Wolverines received the last of the official visits, and they closed the deal and secured his commitment.
Tonielli didn’t register any stats as a freshman. He ended up taking a redshirt, so he is entering the 2024 campaign as a redshirt freshman.
If Tonielli entered the transfer portal, he would be a great target for the Illini. He didn’t get any play at Michigan in year one, but at Illinois, Tonielli would see the field immediately. Starting tight end Tip Reiman is trying his hand at the NFL. That leaves a lot of snaps wide open.
The only competition I would see for Tonielli would be incoming transfer portal tight end, Cole Rusk. He had a great year with Murray State and now enters as the lead dog. I think both Tonielli and Rusk could be a great one-two punch at tight end.