- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
Going into his official visit to Illinois, Westerville (Ohio) South athlete Marcus Ball knew the program was struggling under first-year coach Tim Beckman. The result Saturday was another loss, this one to Minnesota as the Illini fell to 2-8.
That still did not stop Ball from enjoying his first official visit of the process.
“It was amazing. It was a great trip,” he said. “I had a lot of fun.”
Playing early is something that is important to the three-star Ball, the No. 65 athlete nationally who would play free safety at Illinois. On both Saturday and Sunday, Ball talked with Beckman about how he could make an immediate impact in Champaign.
Following Saturday’s loss, Beckman had Ball over for dinner at his house. On Sunday, the two met again in Beckman’s office with defensive coordinator Tim Banks.
“He said with a purpose and with authority, he broke down the depth chart who he has and what he’s working with,” Ball said. “There’s a need for me. There’s a difference between want and need, and they need me.
“At the free safety position, there’s no one coming back, and they have someone a little banged up and he’s talking about moving to receiver,” Ball added. “I’d compete with a sophomore and a freshman coming in. They want me to come in and play now, and he said, ‘If you don’t feel like you can play now then Illinois is not a great place for you.”
Ball likened the Illini’s situation to Ohio State’s, which is just a few miles from Ball’s home. The Buckeyes went through some pains last year but playing younger players in 2011 has helped them to a 10-0 record in 2012.
“He told me the program will turn around because he’s always been a winner -- at Toledo and Oklahoma State,” Ball said of Beckman. “I can see that in his life. I can see that in his staff as well.”
With the visit, the Illini are firmly in Ball’s top group with Arizona State and Wisconsin. He will officially visit Wisconsin on Nov. 16 and is looking to visit Arizona State on Dec. 7.
While Wisconsin is at the top for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ball, he declined to say the visit brought Illinois closer to the Badgers because that would indicate he’s already decided on Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin is a great program, everyone knows that, but I haven’t talked to the coaches about making an immediate impact or when I’d play, which is not bad but I just haven’t talked about it,” Ball said. “Being a competitor, you want to play.”
Michigan State and Pittsburgh could get Ball’s final two official visits. The Panthers are new to Ball’s top group, but he has a strong relationship with the staff. First-year coach Paul Chryst came from Wisconsin and brought much of the staff. Ball’s older brother, Ray, was recruited to play at Wisconsin by several of the Pitt coaches.
Marcus Ball will likely take an unofficial visit to Pitt on Nov. 24.
“They’re going to turn the program around and you can really see that now. I think they should have beat Notre Dame, and seeing the program turn around in front of your eyes is great,” Ball said. “I always had a great relationship with Coach Chryst. He’s been in my house many times, like Coach [Joe] Rudolph has. When they went to Pitt, they jumped right on me and gave me an offer.”