Richmond-Burton’s Luke Eckardt would have been thrilled to follow through with his commitment to Northern Illinois University and play NCAA Division I football at a school close to home.
Eckardt was an integral part of the Rockets’ Class 4A state championship team that defeated Murphysboro, 50-14, in Nov. 2019 at NIU’s Huskie Stadium.
But when Arizona offensive line coach Kyle DeVan reached out last summer via Twitter, Eckardt listened. Eckardt remembered walking Tucson as a youngster when visiting his grandparents, George and Judith Eckardt, who live in a nearby suburb.
“It’s been a dream school of mine probably my entire life,” Eckardt said.
Eckardt signed his National Letter of Intent with Arizona Wednesday morning. He and R-B teammate Jacob Petersen met at about 9:30 at the high school for a signing ceremony. Football players can sign with D-I and D-II schools for football Wednesday through Friday in the NCAA’s early football signing period. The next period runs from Feb. 3 through April 1.
Eckardt (6-foot-6, 290 pounds) was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection as a junior; Petersen (6-4, 220) was an All-Area honorable mention. Petersen caught 18 passes for 402 yards and six touchdowns for the Rockets, who were mainly a running team, but were most effective passing. He also was a standout at defensive end. Holy Cross wants him to play tight end.
“It was July and coach DeVan hit me up on Twitter,” Eckardt said. “We started talking more and more. Coach DeVan kind of swooped in and took me away from (NIU).
“It was difficult. I had to talk to the (NIU) O-line coach (Daryl Agpalsa) and he was upset. That meant they wanted me, but I thought I was making the better decision for myself to commit to Arizona.”
The Wildcats fired coach Kevin Sumlin last weekend after a 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State. So Eckardt does not know if he will still be coached by DeVan on the offensive line.
“I felt bad because I’d developed a relationship with the coaching staff,” Eckardt said. “A couple of days before that, I had a Zoom call with the coaches and they said they might not have to redshirt, they might need me to play. Whatever (coaching) decision the administration makes I hope it’s the right one that puts us on the path to win games.”
Eckardt started on the offensive line for part of his sophomore season, then played defense later in the season as R-B advanced to the Class 4A playoff semifinals.
“He’s only 17, he’s 6-6, 290, he’s going to be a 310, 320-pound kid in a couple years. He has a really high ceiling,” R-B coach Mike Noll said. “They’re looking for the right size, the right frame and they’ll develop him.
“They offered Luke and he already had a commitment to Northern, so he had some hard decisions. He’s a very thoughtful young man, he wanted to do things the right way. It’s a Power 5 (conference) school, he’s very happy.”
While Arizona wants Eckardt on offense, videos of his defensive play helped.
“Their O-line coach told me one of the things that convinced him to offer to Luke was watching his defensive film,” Noll said. “He’s aggressive and uses his leverage fairly well. It’s a great opportunity for Luke.”
In Noll’s 30 years as a head coach (16 at McHenry, 12 at Glenbrook South and two at R-B) it was the first time he had two players sign with D-I schools.
“We’re happy for them,” Noll said. “Jacob will have a great opportunity at Holy Cross.”
• Here is a list of local players who can sign their National Letters of Intent with NCAA scholarship football schools starting on Wednesday.
- David Chinlund (Woodstock), OL-DL – SW Minnesota St. (D-II)
- Carter Evans (Prairie Ridge), TE-LB – Eastern Michigan (D-I)
- Cole Davis (Marengo), WR-DB – North Dakota (D-I)
- Jonah Pace (Marengo), OL-DL – Central Michigan (D-I)
- Luke Eckhardt (Richmond-Burton), OL-DL – Arizona (D-I)
- Jacob Petersen (Richmond-Burton), TE-DE – Holy Cross (D-I)