June 25, 2022


St. Francis’ TJ McMillen realizes Big Ten dream, commits to Illinois

St. Francis baseball and football player TJ McMillen is the Kane County Chronicle Boys Athlete of the Year.

TJ McMillen had no doubts that he wanted to play college football at Illinois even though he’d never been on campus.

The St. Francis junior loved all of his conversations with the Illini coaching staff and how honest they were with their recruitment ever since Illinois offered on May 12.

While McMillen didn’t plan on committing eight days after the initial offer, he knew Illinois was home and committed Friday.

“If you live in the Midwest and you play football, you want to be a Big Ten football player,” McMillen said. “That’s something I’ve dreamed of since I can remember. I’m very fortunate and excited to begin this in the next couple years.”

Illinois joined a long list of colleges interested in McMillen. The junior held 34 Division-I offers, 14 Power-Five offers, including Purdue, Penn State, Ole Miss, Nebraska and Missouri.

The offensive lineman prospect came into a conversation with some Illinois coaches on Friday with an open mind. McMillen thought he would spend the summer going across the country visiting campuses and maybe he would decide some time during his senior season.

But once McMillen continued to talk to Illinois offensive line coach Bart Miller and offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. on Friday, the junior knew these were the guys he wanted to play for. McMillen talked with his father and they called head coach Brett Bielema to let him know that McMillen committed to the team.

The junior was impressed with what Bielema told him during his recruitment and his experience throughout football. Bielema told McMillen that his last seven centers had been drafted in the first few rounds of the NFL draft and that McMillen had the same qualities.

“He’s been at the top of the top and coached in the NFL,” McMillen said of Bielema. “Hearing that from someone who’s been that high up is definitely something that excites and boosts your confidence.”

Both 247Sports Composite and Rivals rank McMillen as a three-star prospect, the 14th-best in the state.

St. Francis coach Bob McMillen watched how well his son handled the recruitment process and was impressed with how Illinois presented his future. Bob McMillen said his son will be a perfect fit for Big Ten football with how much teams run the ball and how tough of an offensive lineman his son is.

“I knew TJ was a good football player when he was in seventh and eighth grade,” Bob said. “To see what he’s done and accomplished in his high school career is pretty spectacular and I can’t wait to see what he does in college.”

TJ McMillen will focus his summer on putting on weight since he played basketball and baseball in the offseason. The junior is also plans on putting in some extra schoolwork this summer so he can graduate early if Illinois wants him to enroll in the new calendar year.

McMillen finally visit campus on June 16 when he takes his official visit and he’s excited to get to work for a place that always felt like home.

“I know that I’m not where I need to be to be a starter in Big Ten football,” TJ McMillen said, “but I’m going to work my (butt) off as soon as I get to Illinois so I can find a spot right away.”

Michal Dwojak

Michal Dwojak

Michal is an award-winning sports journalist based in Chicago. He most recently served as the sports editor of The Glenview Lantern and Northbrook Tower and is a graduate of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.