Mike Ward Seeking Fast Recruiting Start

New Fighting Illini football coach Tim Beckman announced that Mike Ward is joining his staff and will coach the defensive side of the ball. Ward has extensive background as a coach and recruiter, and he has a close relationship with Beckman. He met the media this week and emphasized recruiting as his top priority at this time.

Mike Ward spoke with media this week on his reasons for joining Tim Beckman's staff at Illinois. It is obvious his focus is on recruiting at the moment.

"First of all, the Big 10 conference is the greatest stage there is. I'm a firm believer that Big 10 football is where you want to be in the college football profession. Being a Midwest guy, I'm very familiar with the tradition of Illini football. It's second to none.

"The location is unbelievable. You can recruit student-athletes here because it's a great college town, it's a great place to raise a family, the facilities are second to none, and the support is second to none. Once you realize the University of Illinois has all that, all you've got to do is go out and get the recruits on campus. You'll be able to sell them. And I know we will."

Ward was a defensive coordinator at Toledo, but he and Beckman are not yet ready to divulge his role with the Illini other than he will not be a coordinator.

"I've coached the defensive line, and I've coached linebackers. Where I will be coaching here is still (unknown). I'm excited to be on board."

He can't speak for the as yet unnamed defensive coordinator, but Illini defenders will be familiar with what they hope to accomplish.

"I don't want to get into the schemes right now. I'm gonna be a position coach, and I don't want to speak out of line. But there's gonna be a lot of similarities.

"Coach (Vic) Koenning does a great job. We had a chance to see him on film; we had two crossover games with him this year. The cupboard is not bare here. There's a lot of great players here, and they're being coached very well."

Ward says it was hard to leave Toledo.

"Without a doubt. We've worked long and hard and recruited a lot of great players who are playing good football. Their best is yet to come. That was the toughest thing, leaving a program that was better than when you got there.

"We've done some great things there and have some great relationships there. Leaving before the bowl game was tough."

Like Beckman, Ward is a competitor unfazed by the challenge of facing power schools in the Big 10 conference.

"Every week in this conference, you've got to play your best. And obviously you're gonna have to recruit against them. It has its plusses and its minuses.

"The bottom line is the relationships that you establish with high school coaches, with the recruits, with the recruits' families. That's what's gonna attract them. We feel that we've done that in the past, and we're gonna do that in the future."

Ward will most likely continue cultivating familiar recruiting territories for talent.

"I've been in the South suburbs of Chicago, the state of Indiana and the northwest portion of Ohio. I've been in the Champaign-Urbana area before. I've been primarily in the South suburbs, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, the Merrillville area.

,P>"We've got a lot of contacts in these areas, and a lot of high school coaches have been blowing up my cell phone number, wishing me luck and letting us know they're on board with us."

With the early February signing day approaching rapidly and the new staff behind its competitors, recruiting will be the #1 priority.

"We've got to line up the visits for our recruits in January. We've got to solidify the last few spots, and we've got to evaluate talent for those last few spots. And helping Alex (Golesh, recruiting coordinator) with all the organizational aspects of recruiting. We've got to put the wheels in motion to formulate a game plan on how we're gonna attack this last month and a half of recruiting."

Ward is convinced he and his fellow staff members will continue an Illinois tradition.

"There's always been great players here, there always will be great players here."

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