Luke Butkus was a captain on the 2001 Big 10 champion Illinois football team. There was a lot of talent on that team, but he feels it could have been even better had more in-state prospects the year he graduated from high school recognized the value of a degree from the University of Illinois.
"In 1997, these kids were going to other schools. It really ticked me off, and it still does to this day. I kind of have a better chance to affect that now. I'm an assistant coach, but mostly I'm an alumni; I care about this place regardless of the football program. We need to keep kids in the state of Illinois coming to the University of Illinois."
What true Illini fan doesn't appreciate his remarks? Of course, while Butkus has an excellent background coaching offensive linemen in the NFL, he is a novice when it comes to recruiting.
"As far as football-wise, the biggest adjustment has been recruiting, to be honest. The last five years I've been in the NFL, and usually you had some time off after the season. In this job, you have to keep on running, trying to recruit and finish off the class of 2012. So that was an adjustment.
"At the same time, recruiting is nothing new to me. It's developing relationships and being able to talk about this university. I believe I have an advantage that way because I know this place, and I really care for it."
Butkus's passion guarantees he will be highly motivated in the recruiting game; his enthusiasm will no doubt be appealing to recruits. But first things first. He had never recruited before and needed to pass an NCAA-required test to go on the road.
"I had to take a test to recruit. That was a nerve-racking deal. On the plane, I went through a few practice tests. But it's not a true-false test; it's one of those deals where you could have the answer as A, B, A and B, all the above, and none of the above. At the same time, I was prepared. It's just that you're nervous about it.
"I got in town on a Monday night, took the test on Tuesday and was out on the road on Wednesday. I graduated from the University of Illinois, so it was no problem for me.
"I hear other people talk about not passing it; there are some horror stories like, 'I didn't pass it, so now I can't go out on the road for a month.' So that was scary. But I studied and prepared, so I didn't fret over it."
He has benefitted from bending the ear of top recruiters he has coached with in the past.
"I had asked the people in Seattle, and Pete Carroll was a master of recruiting. Also Tom Cable and Harry Heistand, my old coach. That was the biggest thing to me, how do I get the kids to know about the University of Illinois?
"I can go out there and be passionate about this place. My question was, how do I go out and find these kids? But it's about building relationships, being a man of your word. If you tell people you're going to do something, you do it. I'm not going to go out there and BS anybody. I'm going to build relationships with coaches and kids and be honest with them.
"We want to recruit kids in the state of Illinois. We want to build a fence around this place. That's Coach Beckman's message--Illinois kids come to the University of Illinois."
Butkus's primary recruiting territory is near his old stomping ground.
"I'm from the south suburbs of Chicago. I'll have the Chicago area, in particular the Chicago Catholic League, the northern suburbs and part of the southern suburbs. There are a lot of good linemen in the state this year, and I'm excited about that.
"I'll also recruit Wisconsin, Minnesota. And any place there's a lineman. It just happens that we have some great ones within the state of Illinois. How lucky am I?
"It's a group effort; everything we do is a group effort. If there is a lineman in Florida, I will go there to help recruit him. But as a starting point, we are given areas and schools."
There is an abundance of talent in Illinois in the 2013 class. Some say it is one of the best years in a long time. At least, there is an abundance of talented offensive linemen, some bordering on superstar status.
"I don't know if it's a better year than most because we've always had a lot of talent in the state of Illinois. I know there's great football in the state of Illinois, and there's great players in the state of Illinois. That's part of my job now, and I'll have something to say about it."
Once Butkus combines a knowledge of recruiting with his love for Illinois, he could become one of the Illini's most effective recruiters. It's only a matter of time.
In part 3, Butkus talks about coaching offensive linemen in Beckman's system.