Recruiting: Illini Coaches Flip Verbal Commitment of 2023 3-Star DB Zachary Tobe From UNC to Illinois

Illinois executes its first commitment flip of the 2023 recruiting class as three-star cornerback Zachary Tobe decommits from North Carolina to verbally pledge to the Illini.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst

August 6, 2022

(Cover photo courtesy Zachary Tobe)

Illinois has perfectly executed a commitment flip for its 2023 recruiting class from a Power Five Conference program.

Zachary Tobe, a three-star cornerback prospect from Ocoee (Fla.) High School, announced his intention exclusively to the Daytona Beach News-Journal in a piece published online Saturday morning that he’s decommitted from North Carolina and is the 15th verbal commitment in the Illini’s 2023 class.

“Honestly, this decision did not come easy,” Tobe said to the Daytona Beach News-Journal in a self-written piece published by the newspaper. “It took a lot of thinking and time to figure out what the best decision for me is. Committing is fun and cool, but you also have to sit down and figure out that you have to live there and be there for four years. I knew I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t make the right choice for me.”

Tobe committed to North Carolina on June 28 - just four days after his official visit to the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. However, Illini coaches did not stop contacting Tobe and in just over a month were able to flip him from his verbal pledge to the Atlantic Coast Conference school to Illinois.

I just thought to myself, ‘If I had to sign tomorrow, would I be comfortable?’ The answer kept coming back, ‘No.’ I know it doesn’t look good for me, decommitting, but I have to do what’s right for me,” Tobe said in his own words to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “I’m committing to the University of Illinois.”
Tobe’s speed is a major selling point to Illinois’ 2023 class that already consists of three-star defensive back Jaheim Clarke from Fort Myers, Fla. and defensive back/athlete Kenari Wilcher from Moore Haven (Fla.) High School. Tobe was a regional qualifier in the 110-meter hurdles as a sophomore.

In his junior season at Ocoee, Tobe played both offense and defense where in nine games he totaled 31 tackles, two interceptions, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble for an Ocoee team that competed in Florida’s highest high school classification.

For me, I have to go where I feel most comfortable,” Tobe said to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “Somewhere that I feel I can stand out and be different. Choosing Illinois isn’t an easy decision at all, but I have to use my head. I’m thinking about who I’m going to be, who I’m going to be with, how many guys they’re recruiting at my position and what the culture is there.

Tobe is seen as a major recruiting win for Illini defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and cornerback coach Aaron Henry as he’s projected to enter Henry’s cornerback room as soon as he enrolls at Illinois. Last November, Illinois announced a new three-year contract extension for Walters before the end of his first season as the Illini’s defensive boss that calls for him to be a seven-figure coordinator through the 2024 season.

Walters, who originally left Missouri to join Bielema’s first staff at Illinois at then-annual salary of $850,000, signed a contract that will move his compensation to third-highest among assistant coaches in the Big Ten Conference and into the Top 10 nationally among defensive coordinators.

“With coach (Ryan) Walters, he can really develop me,” Tobe told the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

“Last year, they had a player at my position who got drafted and it was his first year playing safety. That shows the kind of coach he is and what can do with me when I get up there. Coach (Aaron) Henry, the cornerbacks coach up there, I connected with him as well. I’m going in as a corner, so being able to connect with both secondary coaches really stood out to me, too.”

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound defensive back also took an official visit to Champaign on the weekend of June 17. Tobe’s other two official visits were Boston College and UCF.

“My official visit there was everything I could imagine. It was my first time being in Chicago,” Tobe told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “All I heard before I got there is that it was cold and snowed all the time. But it was the nicest school I’d been to. Everything -- the coaches, the players, the relationships I built with other recruits – everything made me feel like I was at home.  I do want to thank my dad for always being there for me, for training me since I was five and believing in me when other people didn’t. I also want to thank my mom for being there for me outside of sports and making sure I was well-balanced. I want to thank coach Shep (Ocoee head coach Aaron Sheppard) and all my coaches for getting me to this point and I also want to thank all of my teammates. I’m done with my recruiting. I’m completely shutting it down.”

For more on the Tobe commitment, click here:


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