Illinois lands late 2024 football commit

Feb. 6—CHAMPAIGN — Make it three years in a row Bret Bielema has added to Illinois football's latest signing class with an under-the-radar defensive back.

Lyndon (Kan.) safety Tanner Heckel committed to Illinois on Tuesday afternoon. A late commitment much in the vein of Matthew Bailey and Mac Resetich, both of whom were similarly out-of-nowhere additions that both played as true freshmen for the Illini the past two seasons.

Heckel can sign with Illinois starting Wednesday when the regular signing period opens. His commitment gives the Illini 17 incoming freshman in the Class of 2024 to go with three junior college transfers and seven portal transfers. More additions are possible. The regular signing period runs through April 1, and the transfer portal will open again between April 15-30.

Heckel helped lead Lyndon to a 13-0 record last fall, as the Tigers won their first ever Kansas Eight-Man Football Association Division I state title. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Heckel starred at quarterback for Lyndon, completing 56 of 100 passes for 1,062 yards, 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also rushed 186 times for 2,313 yards and 50 more touchdowns.

A two-way standout for the Tigers, Heckel also led the team in interceptions and was fourth on the team in tackles. He finished his senior season with 81 tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The 2023 season was Heckel's only year at Lyndon after transferring from Inman (Kan.) when his mom, Megan, was named the Tigers' head girls' basketball coach. Heckel played in consecutive KSHSAA Class 1A state championship games with Inman's football team as a sophomore and junior. In 2022, he racked up over 2,200 yards of total offense as the Teutons' quarterback and was a two-way All-State selection after putting up 47 tackles and two interceptions at safety.

Heckel is a three-sport athlete. He's a key player for Lyndon's unbeaten basketball team and won two individual state track and field titles for Inman last spring. Heckel doubled in the long jump and triple jump at the KSHSAA Class 2A state meet with winning jumps of 22 feet, 11 1/2 inches and 45-2 3/4, respectively. He also placed second in the 100-meter dash in a personal best 10.96 seconds and threw a personal best 178-4 to finish third in the javelin.