running back Devin Church wanted an opportunity to play on college football’s biggest stage. Now, he has it.
The standout senior verbally committed to play at Northern Illinois back in August, but changed his mind over the weekend following an official visit at the University of Illinois.
"I really liked it – from the players to the coaches. It's Big Ten (football) and a great academic school," Church said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I just thought it was a better opportunity."
On Sunday, he announced via Twitter that he had decommitted from Northern Illinois and was headed instead to Urbana-Champaign. The switch coming less than two weeks before National Signing Day (Feb. 1).
It was the ultimate payoff for the 5-foot-9, 182-pound back who by
Church said the switch wouldn’t have happened had the University of Illinois not made a coaching change back in December hiring former University of Toledo coach Tim Beckman.
"Beckman had switched over from Toledo and I always had a relationship with him," said Church, an Ohio native. "When they actually made the switch over there, they wanted to bring me up on a visit."
At Toldeo, Beckman heavily recruited Church and offered him a scholarship. Church liked Beckman, but Northern Illinois was the top football team in the Mid American Conference.
"If I was going to go to the MAC, it was going to be the top school," Church said.
Church also really liked the Huskies running backs coach Eddie Faulkner. In another twist of fate, Faulkner left Northern Illinois in January to take the same position with the University of Pittsburgh. The senior said Faulkner’s departure did factor into his decision.
When the invitation came from Illinois for the official visit, Church started weighing his options.
"Going into the visit, I had thought they were going to make an offer, so I started thinking about all the stuff," Church said.
He went on the visit from Friday to Sunday and his host was the team’s starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
On the visit, Church toured the campus, talked with coaches, met other players and even sat down with some of the university’s academic staff. He said he tried to talk "with everybody."
He also looked at what his competition would be at running back. Illinois is graduating three seniors at the position and won’t have anybody with significant experience on the roster next season.
Coaches told him that it would be an open competition for playing time.
"It will be all about what I show them," Church said. "If I play to my ability, I should be fine."
When he came back home, he talked the decision over with his mom and dad. He also sought out the advice of his coach at Brother Rice, Al Fracassa. They all said the same thing - do what’s best for you.
In the end, Church simply said playing in the Big Ten was something he "couldn’t pass up."
He personally called Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren and let him know he had changed his mind.
"It was hard, he probably didn’t expect it, but I let him know what I thought was better for me," Church said. "At the end of the day, he understood."
Now, the senior can breathe easy. He said he will meet with Beckman on Friday to talk everything over and sign his letter of intent on Feb. 1.
"It feels good to finally be done with it," Church said.