Illinois head football coach Ron Zook and his staff are excellent recruiters. They continue to bring in productive athletes year after year, and Zook expects the 2012 signing class will compare favorably with his previous classes.
"Our recruiting is going a lot better than some people might think. I feel pretty good about recruiting. We had some key guys here for the (Arizona State) game, which was an exciting atmosphere. They were in the locker room after the game, so they saw that. It's a good feeling. Games like that, atmospheres like that do nothing but help."
The season's onset was a boon to Illini recruiting, allowing Zook, his coaches and team to show the country they can compete with anyone on their schedule. Athletes like to play with winners, and the Illini are proving to be just that.
However, during the off season, opponents and their media shills had a field day predicting Zook's demise, claiming he would be fired after the season. This was no doubt inspired by a desire to damage his recruiting credibility, and it likely worked in some cases.
If the Illini continue to win, Zook's job will be secure and the critics may have egg on their faces. At the least, recruiting will be enhanced.
"There's no question, the more positive it is, the easier it is to sell," Zook acknowledges.
Of course, Zook reminds that negativity never ends in college football recruiting.
"They're gonna continue to negatively recruit. That's part of it."
Zook tells a recruit why he should attend Illinois, not why he shouldn't attend a competitor. Of course, Zook and his staff have much to sell.
"When we recruit, we sell us. We sell what we have. We sell the University, we sell the people, we sell the coaches. When we offer a scholarship, we tell them, 'It's our job to prove to you that we're the best place for you.' If we can't do it, we can't do it.
"We can't get everybody, I think everybody understands that. But you've got to get the ones that you feel like can help your program."
Zook's top priority in recruiting is the state of Illinois and adjacent territories.
"If you go back and break down recruiting, not all but better than 50% of the players are gonna stay in that region, for whatever reason. You just have to know the ones you have an opportunity to get. I think that's the biggest thing in recruiting anyway, knowing who you have a chance to get."
The Illini recruit people, not territories. They go into more distant locales when they have connections there. Otherwise, Zook says there are no new areas he'd like to recruit.
"I'm a family and friends recruiter. I think you go where you know people, where you have contacts. You can't always sign 25 guys anyway. You've just got to find the right ones."
When the Illini sign a player or two from a certain area, they hope it will attract other players down the road, creating a recruiting pipeline. Zook was asked specifically about Memphis since the Illini have had recent success there.
"They have really good football, and they're really good this year. Obviously, we have two guys from Memphis, both linebackers.
"I think that's how you start pipelines. You get a guy that comes from an area, and then all of a sudden things are going well for him academically and socially. He feels good about the people, he feels good about the football program. That's how you start things.
"That's how we did it in D.C., that's how we do it in Florida. Guys come and say this is a pretty good place. The people are great, the academics are great, the facilities are great, the social life, all those things are important."
Conference realignments are in the news these days. Zook hasn't had much chance to think about the effects of realignment on recruiting. Nebraska is recruiting Big 10 territories now they are in the conference. SEC schools will likely recruit Texas harder since Texas A & M is joining their conference. Zook sees benefits to that.
"I think what happens if you've got conference realignment, it gives schools that don't go into certain areas a chance to open up that area and go in there and experiment and get some players."
The Illini probably won't recruit much in Nebraska, but they do have a recruit from Kansas coming next year. Should the Big 10 expand elsewhere in the near future, new recruiting territories might open up.
Regardless, winning games on the field and having quality coaches is the key to recruiting. It appears Illinois is poised to take advantage of both this year.