The day Illinois fired football coach Ron Zook, Chicago Mount Carmel High School senior defensive lineman Vontrell Williams' cellphone began to buzz. Committed to Illinois since September, Williams saw the process starting all over again. He recalled on pitch from one school in particular. The assistant coach worked at Toledo, where Tim Beckman was the coach.

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CHAMPAIGN -- The day Illinois fired football coach Ron Zook, Chicago Mount Carmel High School senior defensive lineman Vontrell Williams' cellphone began to buzz.

Committed to Illinois since September, Williams saw the process starting all over again. He recalled on pitch from one school in particular. The assistant coach worked at Toledo, where Tim Beckman was the coach.

"Man, that's definitely funny,'' said Williams.

It's a twist to a much longer story.

He resisted the urge to change schools, and now Williams is a key recruit in Beckman's first class as Illini coach. Signing day is Wednesday, when Beckman will introduce the the recrutiing list at Assembly Hall.

It might be short on the four- and five-star recruits that make a big deal in Internet recruiting rankings, but Illinois coaches felt they put together a class that filled needs at running back, defensive back and defensive line. The Illini may add four or five more recruits by Wednesday, the first day high school seniors can sign a letter of intent.

Williams was a Chicago Tribune first-team all-stater who overcame the death of his mother and a failed relationship with his father before meeting a cousin, Jemal King, a former Western Illinois defensive end, and King's wife, Camille, who became Williams' surrogate parents.

"We've got a long road to go,'' Williams said. "This isn't the top of the hill yet. I feel very fortunate. I see the good in everything.''

He's also endured plenty of the bad.

One Sunday morning, Williams watched his mother die from a heart attack when he was a high school freshman, he said. Timeka Williams was gone by the time she reached the hospital.

Williams decided to live with his father in Lakeland, Fla., but the relationship fizzled.

"His dad was saying that he didn't want him anymore,'' King said. "At that point, Vontrell came back to Chicago heartbroken.''

Williams returned to live with his great-grandmother, then soon met King. A three-year letterman at Western Illinois, King is a Chicago police officer and part-time football coach. His first influence in athletics came from his uncle, who would get King up for early-morning workouts.

The man was also Williams' grandfather, and Williams' situation struck a nerve with King, who had two daughters but no sons.

"My wife and I had been praying for a son,'' King said. "Sometimes God gives you what you ask for. Instead of a newborn baby, he came as a 6-foot-2, 275 pounder.''

Williams' career took off after he came under supervision from King. Williams spent part of his freshman year at Westchester St. Joseph, then transfered to Lakeland, Fla., where he competed during spring practice. After briefly starting his sophomore year at Lakeland, Williams returned to Chicago and St. Joe.

He quit football, then hooked up with King and transfered to Mount Carmel, where King is an assistant coach.

"He made a big difference in my life,'' Williams said. "He taught me how to be a man. If you never give up on the football field, you never give up in life.''

According to Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tim O'Halloran, Williams ranks 16th among the state's senior class. He's the highest ranking senior to pick Illinois in a transitional year in recruiting. Beckman's staff had a little more than a month to do a year's work.

Williams picked the Illini over Indiana and Kansas. A defensive end at Mount Carmel, he will likely shift to defensive tackle at Illinois.

"He's relentless, aggressive,'' said national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. "I like his attitude and relentless style of play. He worked very hard to be good.''

That's just part of the story on Williams.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.

Illinois commitment list

Players who gave oral commitments to Illinois football coach Tim Beckman. Signing day is Wednesday.

Name/Pos./Ht./Wt./School

Dami Ayoola/RB/5-10/200/Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
Robbie Bain/OL/6-3/300/Bolingbrook
Taylor Barton/DB/6-1/200/Orlando (Fla.) Lake Highland
Devin Church/RB/5-8/175/Southfield (Mich.) Brother Rice
Elliot Faerber/WR/6-5/208/Shawnee Mission (Kan.) East
Ryan Fain/PK/6-1/210/Indianapolis Scecina
TaJarvis Fuller/DB/6-1/185/Ft. Myers (Fla.) Dunbar
Justin Hardee/ATH/6-1/185/Cleveland Glenville
Jevaris Little/DB/6-1/180/St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood
Mason Monheim/LB/6-1/215/Orrville (Ohio)
T.J. Neal/LB/6-1/225/McKeesport (Pa.)
Teko Powell/DT/6-2/285/Miami Norland
Daniel Rhodes/TE/6-3/230/Charlotte (N.C.) Independence
Jason Robertson/WR/6-1/185/Mokena Lincoln-Way East
Joseph Spencer/OL/6-4/270/Mason (Ohio)
Vontrell Williams/6-2/275/Chicago Mount Carmel