The recruiting game changed dramatically Thursday for Jonny Bottorff.
The Quincy Notre Dame all-state offensive lineman has been in regular contact with a number of NCAA Division II programs and drawn some interest from a few FCS schools. The big-time programs, namely those from the Power 5 conferences, had inquired a little about the 6-foot-4, 285-pound center, but none had shown any serious interest.
Illinois finally has. Coaches from the Big Ten Conference school visited Bottorff at school Thursday and offered him the opportunity to be a preferred walk-on.
"It's exciting to even have that opportunity and that they believe in me to have a shot to play at that level," Bottorff said. "It's incredible."
While not a scholarship offer, the preferred walk-on status guarantees Bottorff a roster spot when the Illini began camp next fall.
"What they told me was the only difference between you and a scholarship guy is you have to pay for school," Bottorff said. "After that, when you get there, you practice the same. You work out with them. I'd show up in June just like any other player. The only difference is I'd have to pay for school."
But that doesn't limit his opportunities.
"With (Illinois coach) Lovie Smith being a former NFL guy, he's not as worried about who is a scholarship guy and who isn't. He's going to put the best guys out on the field," Bottorff said. "It makes you believe if you put the work toward it you'd have an opportunity to play. That's exciting."
Other schools continue to pursue Bottorff as well.
Coaches from Northwest Missouri State visited with Bottorff earlier this week. Central Missouri has been interested, along with other Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association programs. Quincy University was one of the first to offer him a scholarship, and Indianapolis has been front and center in pursuit of him as well. Northern Iowa and a few other FCS schools have maintained contact.
"I'm not close to making a decision yet," Bottorff said.
It gets tougher with each offer he receives, especially when a Big Ten school enters the mix.
"There's just a lot of things to consider," Bottorff said. "You try to make pros and cons in your head. It's like, ‘This place I'll have pay for school, but it's the Big Ten, it's Division I, it's what you dream of as a kid.' Whereas with other schools it's like, ‘You've got a scholarship and a place you're guaranteed you're probably going to play at some point.' It's tough, but I've always believed in myself."
That's why the Illini offer is so intriguing.
"I think it's something I could pursue," Bottorff said. "I think I have what it takes to play at that level. I'm not trying to sound cocky, but I've always believed in myself and I have the confidence I could do it. You know the work is just getting started if you were to accept it. It's only an upward battle from there.
"But it's Big Ten football. It's your dream as a little kid to play big-time college football with the prime-time games on Saturday. So it's still kind of swirling around in my head. It's been exciting."