SPRING VALLEY — Cam McDonald was never really a big University of Illinois fan growing up. He was more of a Duke Blue Devil.
Look for him to be wearing more of the Illinois blue and orange these days.
The Hall High School senior signed to play baseball for the Fighting Illini Wednesday afternoon, the first day Division I baseball recruits from the Class of 2018 were allowed.
When asked if he's an Illinois fan now, McDonald joked, "I guess now I am."
McDonald said Illinois was the first big school to offer him a scholarship, though he had been scouted by Illinois State, Minnesota, Kent State and Ball State, among others.
"I went there and I really fell in love with it," McDonald said. "I want to play against the best and that’s obviously going to give me the opportunity. I think I’m ready for it. I hope I am."
Having summer teammates also signing with the Illini was a big selling point for him.
"They’re really hard workers and I feel like they’ll push me to become better. That's probably the biggest reason I choose U of I," he said.
The 6-foot-4 infielder from Ladd is rated as the No. 4 player in the state, 317 nationally, according to Perfect Game. He said coaches from ISU, which amped up his recruitment after backing off a bit after his sophomore season, told him he had made the biggest strides in the class of 2018.
"I went from a junior college guy to being ready to play at Division I. That’s when I knew I was ready," said McDonald, who plans to study sports management.
Prep Baseball Report offers this assessment of McDonald:
"The 6-4, 187-pound, highly projectable prospect, has really grown into his frame this past year. At the PBR Fall Championships and multiple other fall tournaments, McDonald barrelled up everything in sight. The right-handed hitter stays within himself, sees pitches deep into the zone, creates easy whip and has sneaky strength in his swing. Overall, McDonald is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential."
The Illini project McDonald to play third or first base, maybe at a middle infield spot if he can get his speed up, he said.
McDonald becomes the first Division I recruit for Hall coach Tom Keegan. Teammate Brant Vanaman is expected to follow soon with Kent State.
"It’s exciting for everyone, not only for Cam and his family, and also for our school," Keegan said. "To see a kid go to the flagship university of your state to play baseball is pretty thrilling to be around."
Keegan said McDonald had a plan and stuck to it.
"Him and his family laid out a plan how to get there. Followed it, sacrificed and are reaping the awards for it," Keegan said. "I knew he was going to work his tail off to get to this point.
Lot of kids have the dream or wish. There's a lot of behind the scenes stuff that maybe not a lot of people are privy too. But man, he’s worked so hard to get to where he's at. Always been one of his goals."
McDonald follows in the footsteps of his dad, Matt, a pitcher who signed with Parkland College out of Princeton High School in 1992 and was drafted by the Oakland A’s two years later.
"Very humbling and proud moment for dad,” said the elder McDonald, who serves as Hall's pitching and first base coach.
McDonald credits the practice and sweat his son put in working with trainers and coaches in travel ball and camps to help shape him into the player he is today.
“I think really it's just him putting in the hard work and deciding that this is something he wanted to go for," Matt McDonald said. "He knew there’s a lot of risks and wasn’t for sure there were rewards there, but decided he was going to go for it."
The elder McDonald said while he and his son were different kind of prospects, “he’s way more ready than I was” thanks to more advanced science and training offered to athletes these days.
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