PERU — If Bret Dannis wasn’t for sure at first where he wanted to go to college and run track, his grandfather Bruce Smith sure did.
Smith often wore University of Illinois colors and apparel to help make a sales pitch for the flagship university of the state, just in case his grandson had any doubts.
And when Smith walked into St. Bede Academy to see his grandson announce his decision, he tipped his hand wearing those same Illinois colors.
Dannis made his unveiling of his college of choice Friday afternoon in the parlor of St. Bede Academy in front of family, teammates and school staff. He received a fullride scholarship.
The St. Bede three-time state hurdles champion also received offers from and made visits to Colorado State, North Carolina and Kansas. In the end, all directions pointed back to Illinois.
“When I went there, they just really made my feel like family and felt like it’s a place I can grow not only as an athlete, but as a young man overall. It was somewhere I could myself going,” he said.
“I just really want to progress and I feel like Illinois is the place where I can do that. They have as high expectations for me as I do for myself. I feel like things are going to go very well.”
Being able to stay close to home was also a big factor, he said.
“It definitely helped decision knowing my family would be there to support me and people from the community,” Dannis said.
Even so, the process came became harder along the way.
“I felt like everywhere I went, the question where I was going to go actually got harder. Because you go here, ‘This is the best, this is the best, this is the best.’ But at the end you take everything and you just got a gut feeling this is going to be right.”
While Dannis said it was one of his biggest kept secrets, St. Bede coach Ron Barnes had a pretty good idea he would see Dannis wearing orange and blue Friday.
“Knowing how tight-knit he is with his family, and forgetting about his sister lives in Colorado, I figured it would be the U of I just for closeness. His parents like to watch him. Two hours is a lot better than eight, nine, 10 hours.”
Barnes said it’s a great accomplishment for not only Dannis and St. Bede.
“We have numerous people that go to the U of I for academics. To now have one going for athletics at that level is a plus for the school,” he said.
Dannis is the two-time reigning IHSA champion in the 110 intermediate hurdles. He also won the 300 low hurdles in Class 1A in 2016 and was 2A state runner-up in 2017.
Dannis’ next goal is to go back to state and win both hurdles and set the state records.
At Illinois, he will focus on the 110 hurdles initially, adjusting to the longer distance of the 400s.
“It’s just going to be a whole new animal,” he said.
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