High school football notebook: Illinois coach Bret Bielema picks up a local recruit

Bret Bielema’s persistence paid off with his biggest in-state recruiting catch yet.

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Fenwick wide receiver Eian Pugh is Illinois’ highest-ranked recruit in the Class of 2022.

Fenwick wide receiver Eian Pugh is Illinois’ highest-ranked recruit in the Class of 2022.

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Bret Bielema’s persistence paid off with his biggest in-state recruiting catch yet.

Fenwick wide receiver Eian Pugh, a three-star prospect who had previously committed to Cincinnati, gave a verbal commitment to Bielema and Illinois last week.

At No. 13 in 247Sports.com’s composite rankings for the Class of 2022, Pugh is the highest-rated of the Illini’s six commits in the incoming senior class.

Illinois offered Pugh about four months ago. “Every day since, they’ve been hitting me up,” he said.

After a Zoom meeting with Bielema and his family went well, Pugh took a visit when the NCAA recruiting dead period ended. “When I showed up on campus, I loved the family feel,” he said.

But having committed to Cincinnati, Pugh felt he owed the Bearcats a visit as well.

“It was good, it went well,” he said. “(But) something just clicked on the way home: ‘I’m not too sure if that’s the place.’ Five minutes later, I called Illinois and told them I’m coming home.”

Pugh is Illinois’ 10th commit in the class. Five others are in the state’s top 30, according to the 247Sports composite rankings: Joliet Catholic running back Jordan Anderson (20th), Brother Rice tight end Henry Boyer (21st), Rochester receiver Hank Beatty (26th), Joliet Catholic linebacker Malachi Hood (27th) and Iroquois West offensive lineman Clayton Leonard (28th).

Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia expects Pugh, a 6-foot-4, 170-pounder, to thrive at the next level.

“Wherever he goes, he’s bringing elite ball skills,” Battaglia said. “He’s got great length, speed. He’s a vertical threat.”

Pugh is part of what figures to be one of the more potent passing games in the state this fall. Fellow receiver Max Reese is No. 24 among Illinois seniors and has Power Five offers from Arizona State and Kansas. Quarterback Kaden Cobb, ranked 15th in the state in the Class of 2022, committed to defending Mid-American Conference champ Ball State on Wednesday.

Zee-Bees coach mourned

The Lake County football community is in mourning after Zion-Benton coach Cristo Garza died on June 19. He was 42.

Garza played at Round Lake and started his coaching career as an assistant at Lakes when the school opened in 2004. He was the head coach at Round Lake from 2015-18 before moving to Zion-Benton in 2019.

“The guy was so much fun, so much energy,” former Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. “Always a smile on his face. He just made you feel good about any situation.

“He was genuine. He was as real a person as you ever would meet.”

The Zee-Bees were 3-6 in 2019 and 2-4 in the abbreviated pandemic season, but with a number of returning players the future appeared bright.

“He was really excited about the next couple years with his team,” Mertens said.

Versatile Jack Lausch heading to Notre Dame

Incoming senior Jack Lausch of Brother Rice is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Cole Kmet and Jeff Samardzija, who juggled football and baseball careers at Notre Dame.

Lausch, an outfielder and quarterback, will be a preferred walk-on in both sports with the possibility of earning a scholarship down the road.

Samardzija followed his two-sport stint at Notre Dame with a 12-year MLB career that included stops with the Cubs and White Sox. Kmet is heading into his second season as a Bears tight end after his double duty with the Irish.

They’re role models for Lausch.

“The goal has always been to do both (sports) as long as I can,” he said. “Right now I love both.”

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