As one of the top rings specialists in the country, Dennis Minton received interest from several Division I men's gymnastics programs.

As one of the top rings specialists in the country, Dennis Minton received interest from several Division I men's gymnastics programs.

Looking to pursue a degree in engineering, the 2014 Gahanna Lincoln High School graduate chose the University of Illinois over Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Stanford.

Because boys gymnastics is not an OHSAA-sanctioned sport, Minton, who has reached level-10 status, had been competing with the Ohio State club team -- now known as International Gymnastics Academy -- and DeRon McIntyre Elite Gymnastics in Columbus.

"During the recruiting trip, I just really enjoyed spending time with the (Illinois) team," Minton said. "That's a really big part of why you choose a school, because it's a group of guys you're going to spend four years with.

"Also, (Illinois has) a great engineering school, which is what I wanted to major in. It just seemed like a really nice fit for me."

Minton, who left for Champaign, Ill., earlier this month to begin taking classes and start training for his freshman season, excelled academically at Gahanna and received the President's Award for Educational Achievement despite dedicating 18 hours a week to practicing and having to travel -- often out of state -- for meets.

"Dennis was a highly-recruited ring athlete for us that I expect to compete and excel in his first year," said Illinois coach Justin Spring, a former Fighting Illini standout who helped Team USA win the bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "Dennis has great potential to be (an) All-American and contribute to our team significantly in his first year. As an engineer, he is a very well balanced student-athlete, and we are very proud to have him (be) a part of our team."

As a member of the Fighting Illini, Minton will have an opportunity to compete against Ohio State and his former club coaches during the regular season and in the Big Ten Conference Championships. Illinois begins its season in January.

Last season, the Fighting Illini finished fourth (435.35) of six teams in the team final of the NCAA Championships, behind two-time defending national champion Michigan (445.05), Oklahoma (441.65) and Stanford (436.3) and ahead of Ohio State (433.5) and Penn State (429.8).

"The Ohio State coaches helped me get to where I am now, just getting on a college team," said Minton, who began practicing and competing with Ohio State's club team when he was in seventh grade. "It was definitely a big help having college coaches at my club."

Minton won the national title on rings in the level-10, 17-year-old competition of the U.S. Junior Olympic National Championships held May 6-11 in Long Beach, Calif., scoring 31.25 points to edge runner-up Nicholas Kano (30.3) of Arcadia, Calif.

"That was my biggest win so far," Minton said. "I'm very pleased with my performance and how everything turned out. It was really a great way to end my club career."

Minton, a seven-time qualifier for the Region 5 Championships, was runner-up on rings in the 16-year-old competition of the 2013 U.S. Junior Olympic National Championships held in Portland, Ore.

Minton, who started taking gymnastics classes at age 5 with Cyclone Gymnastics in Blacklick, knows he has come a long way in the sport.

"I liked it and I kept moving up in the class rank until I was on the competition team and stayed in it and now I'm here," he said.