Illinois, Bret Bielema poach SEC assistant to serve as next wide receivers coach
Illinois coach Bret Bielema was left without a wideout coach when George McDonald decided to take the same position on Lane Kiffin’s staff at Ole Miss. (McDonald did add a passing game coordinator title.) He responded by pulling a receivers coach from the SEC.
On Thursday, the Illini announced the hiring of South Carolina assistant Justin Stepp.
“I can’t wait to get to Champaign and join Coach Bielema, Coach Lunney, and everyone in the Illinois football famILLy,” Stepp said in a release. “I have always been impressed with the tough, smart way Coach Bielema’s teams play the game. I am excited to get to work with the great staff and student-athletes within the program.”
Added Bielema: “I have admired Coach Stepp’s career from afar and I am excited to welcome him to our Illini famILLy. His relationships-driven leadership has led to an enormous amount of success in recruiting and developing NFL-caliber wide receivers. I am excited to see the impact his passion will have on our building. He and his wife, Brooke, and their two children are going to be great additions to our football famILLy and the Illinois community.”
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) February 9, 2024
Stepp spent the last three seasons coaching South Carolina’s wide receivers. He was set to transition to tight ends in 2024.
Under Stepp’s guidance, the Gamecocks have produced some strong receiving seasons over the last two years. Antwane Wells Jr. transferred up from the FCS level in 2022 and immediately played at an All-SEC level. His first year with the program, he led the team with 68 receptions for 928 yards and six touchdowns.
Last season, Xavier Legette exploded for 71 receptions, 1,255 yards, and seven touchdowns. In his four prior seasons with the team, Legette recorded just 42 catches for 423 yards in 41 appearances. Legette earned All-SEC honors and went into the South Carolina record books with the second-best receiving season in program history.
Before South Carolina, Stepp had previous stints coaching wideouts at Arkansas (2018-20), SMU (2015-17), and App State (2012-14). He also spent three years (2009-11) as a grad assistant at Clemson.
His addition gives Illinois a veteran receivers coach with a strong track record. Stepp has also won a handful of big recruiting battles. He’s credited with 10 different blue-chip receiver commits, including recruiting Treylon Burks to Arkansas. Burks had 2,399 yards and 18 touchdowns in Fayetteville before being selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.