Illinois football recruiting coordinator Joe Gilbert spoke recently on WDWS radio about Illini recruiting efforts. Michigan has 20 commitments already, and other conference schools are doing well. He was asked if he is concerned about having only 6 commitments at this time.
"No. I think recruiting is a process. I don't get concerned, and I know Coach (Zook) doesn't get concerned. Everybody gets concerned because they see all these early commitments.
"It's two-fold. Obviously, there's some great players that want to make their decisions early. But there's also players that want to go through the process. Guys that want to see the school and don't make a commitment without seeing the place.
"You can understand that. You've got to work your tail off on trying to talk with these guys, "Hey, don't make a commitment until you come out and see the school."
Illinois has taken early commitments before, with mixed results. Better players were available and interested late in the recruiting season, but no scholarships were available. Sometimes it's best to hold off until the end of the process.
"I think we're sitting fine. With these early commitments, sometimes you find you take a guy, and he doesn't end up panning out to be quite the player you thought because you don't see senior film. You're taking guys or saying 'No' to guys before you can see their growth through the summer.
"The last time we've seen some of these guys was back in June at our camps. The amazing thing is, they have another 2-3 months before their season kicks off. You see their potential and how much they've grown.
"You walk into a school when you're on the road in September, and this kid put on another 10-12 pounds. He's gotten bigger, he's faster. The process has speeded up, and there's some good things to it and some bad things to it."
One major concern is depth at defensive tackle. Unexpected events thinned the ranks of promising freshman, leaving a void that must be filled next recruiting class.
"We'll be fine. Obviously, that will be a major emphasis in what we recruit. We've got to take a couple guys there. What happened with Chris (Jones) leaves a little hole there, so that just means we'll have to push to get another guy or two at that spot for this upcoming class."
Gilbert explains Illini coaches are responsible for specific recruiting areas of the state and country, plus their positions.
"Every coach is assigned an area. As a group, we each take a piece of Illinois. We cover the state first. That's Coach Zook's philosophy, to go hard after the in-state players first. Then we'll move out from there.
"Everyone is assigned a geographic area. For instance, I have the northern part of Ohio from Toledo all the way over to Cleveland. I've got all of New York and New England, and I have the whole southern part of Florida: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and then on the West coast I have Ft. Myers and Naples.
"Everybody recruits their areas, and then we all pitch in and recruit by position. I'll email an offensive lineman even if he's not in my area. We cross-recruit that way when we start getting involved with kids.
"The one position we always get Jeff (Brohm, quarterback coach) and Paul (Petrino, offensive coordinator) to go see is quarterback. In the springtime, either Jeff or Paul will be out to see all our top quarterbacks. That position is a little different than most others."
The Texas Bowl victory provided a big boost for recruiting.
"I think the exposure we got from winning the bowl game is a huge thing. People talk about going to a bowl, but going out and winning the way we did, people realize the program is coming back up. We've turned the corner.
"It's amazing nowadays, with the Internet and all that stuff, they know we went to a bowl game. They know who won the game. People want to be part of a winning program."
Zook has long maintained his best recruiters are his players. Gilbert agrees, knowing if he can get an athlete on campus, he will be impressed by his potential future teammates.
"Our players right now are excited. When we get recruits coming on campus and get a chance to meet our kids, they see that. And they feed off that. The energy level of our guys right now is unbelievable. We're very optimistic and fired up for the season. That carries over when we get kids on campus."
While the Illini won't take as many players as last year, quality will still be good, especially with another winning season.