Jacobs TE Nick True ready for challenge with preferred walk-on offer from Illinois

Jacobs’ Nick True runs for a touchdown after catching a pass during a Fox Valley Conference football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, between Crystal Lake South and Jacobs at Crystal Lake South High School.

Jacobs senior Nick True could have taken the sure thing at NCAA Division II schools such as Grand Valley State, Findlay (Ohio) and Wayne State (Michigan).

True also could have opted to go to Northern Illinois University or FCS schools such as St. Thomas (Minnesota) and Valparaiso.

At any of those schools, True’s chances of getting on the football field would have been encouraging.

But True wanted to go big. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound tight end was not afraid to bet on himself.

True accepted a preferred walk-on opportunity with Illinois and will join Fighting Illini coach Bret Bielema’s team this summer.

That means Jacobs will have had two D-I tight ends on its Fox Valley Conference tri-champion team last season. Junior Grant Stec recently committed to Wisconsin and will sign his National Letter of Intent after the 2023 season.

Adding to True’s challenge likely will be a switch to the defensive side, either at outside linebacker or defensive end. Preferred walk-on players are allowed a roster spot with a chance to later earn a scholarship if they end up playing more and contributing.

“I just feel like with me going to a bigger school, I can easily put on a lot of weight and learn a lot more at a bigger school,” True said. “I feel like they can get me where I need to be, and it’s my best opportunity. I feel like I’m ready for it. I feel like I can show what I can really do at one of these type of schools.”

True caught 18 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns last season. The Golden Eagles were a run-heavy team, but True and Stec gave opposing defenses difficult matchups with their height and speed.

Jacobs coach Brian Zimmerman had communicated with the Illinois staff since True’s junior year.

“I told him that this is a big deal, as they usually only offer a few preferred walk-ons each year,” Zimmerman said. “He knows that this is not a cakewalk and every day he is going to have to prove himself. He has a great frame at 6-5. He will have to work hard to get his weight up, but he will have access to top-notch facilities and strength and conditioning coaches at Illinois on top of getting a top tier education.”

True also had preferred walk-on offers from Purdue and Kansas. He has been working out, trying to put on weight. He and running back Antonio Brown, who signed with D-II Bemidji (Minnesota) State, go to DEANation in Crystal Lake, where they work with speed trainer Jay Mabry.

“My freshman and sophomore year, I wasn’t really serious about sports, but my junior year, I started to notice that I could really compete at a high level and if I put myself into it I could become something I never knew I could become,” True said. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity, and it’s going to make me a lot better. I’m excited for it.”

Zimmerman feels True’s potential gives him a high ceiling.

“We are very proud of Nick and how far he has come since his freshman year,” Zimmerman said. “He has been working hard, and we are excited to see where this opportunity takes him.”