When Plainfield East offensive lineman Zachary Barlev was asked if he ever envisioned earning a scholarship offer from a Big Ten school, he unleashed a hearty laugh that lasted a good 10 seconds.
"Heck, no," the 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior said. "When I was younger I barely touched the field. Until my sixth grade year, it was like, here's your six plays and get off the field. And I never saw it again. When I was younger, I got picked on and told you won't play high school football, you won't play college football, you should just quit now. But in sixth grade I just got that mindset which was basically screw them, I'm going to prove them all wrong. And I bettered myself every day to get myself to where I was at."
Barlev's tireless work effort and improvement recently paid off as he made the commitment to attend the University of Illinois to continue his football career.
"Even now, this was something I was not expecting," Barlev said.
Barlev's recruitment took off early in his junior year and his ultimate destination was actually the first school to step forward with an offer at the Division I level.
"It really picked up with things when I got the Illinois offer," Barlev said. "That day when they offered, it spoke to me that it was the school that I wanted to go."
But the path wasn't totally smooth. Concerned that the Fighting Illini might back off on the offer based on an MRI result from a bone chip injury he suffered during wrestling season, Barlev focused on finding a back-up plan. He first verbally committed to Bowling Green before decommitting when the Illini reaffirmed that they felt Barlev's MRI was clean.
"When I started the process I kind of looked down on decommitting," Barlev said. "But when all of this started, I didn't think a big pandemic was going to come down on us and hit us with a massive wave. When I saw the deadline was moved back, I thought I might be better off making a decision now. So I would have a school in place if Illinois came back from my MRI result and didn't end up with the offer.
"That (Illinois) was what I wanted all along," Barlev admitted. "The coaching staff, the facilities are great and everyone is on the same page was one another. It was the right fit for me."