Steve Clinkscale has enjoyed recruiting success wherever he's coached. That includes Chicago, a major recruiting territory for the Illinois football team. He shares the areas he will be recruiting.
"I have the Chicago Public League, I have Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania. I also have South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. I've recruited all those areas before."
Some wonder if a coach who's past experience has been limited to mid-major schools can recruit against the superpowers. It can be a daunting task, but Clinkscale believes any barriers can be overcome.
"To be honest, I haven't experienced that yet. My approach is, I don't let that seed of doubt enter into the conversation. We are a big-time program with big-time coaches and big-time players. Our players are going to graduate and play in the NFL. That's what those men are looking for.
"We have been successful here in this conference, and there's an excitement with the new staff. I hit on those points, and I don't let the underlying concerns that we haven't been as good as people want us to be enter into our conversations. I really haven't had that issue at all."
One common way elite programs recruit is to create a kind of whisper campaign where recruits hear constantly about their schools as being better than their competitors. Authors of school websites at Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and others of that stripe like to call offers from their schools "big-time offers," to distinguish them from lesser schools. Clinkscale is aware of the problem but refuses to let it win the day.
"I believe that's the way we're approaching it. We're not going to allow that whisper campaign to get in the door. So when we talk to those young men, their coaches and their families, and they come visit us on campus, this is a big-time program. We don't knock any other program; we wish them the best."
Clinkscale continues discussing his approach with recruits.
"There's a lot of great coaches on this staff who are accustomed to winning games. So we've got to recruit you here. This is a great opportunity for you to show your impact immediately here. That's how we approach all the recruits."
How can they recruit against other dominant powers when they haven't had a recent history of great success on the field?
"That's the facts. You've got to go out and prove it year in and year out. That's with everybody. Everybody's excited about the different coaching changes in the Big Ten, but the fact of the matter is you play every week. You've got to prove it on the field. I don't think that is a knock; I just take it as a challenge for us to continue to get better and work harder.
"We're all recruiting hard. We're recruiting the state like it's never been recruited before. I believe it's maybe a little intimidating to some folks that they say those things about us. But it doesn't really bother us, to be honest with you. Actually, it's a compliment. Allow us to go out and prove it. We will, believe me."
Illinois is more restrictive academically than most of the Big 10. Clinkscale sees that as a plus.
"I don't think that's an issue. It is a challenge though, to make sure we're recruiting the right young men. Even if they fit the requirements for the NCAA, you want them to be successful here. I think that's what the school does. I think you have to follow the guidelines at every school. Those academic things that are in place are there to help the young man be successful."
Like the other issues, Clinkscale and his fellow assistants strive to make lemonade out of lemons. And there is an upside to the academic reputation at Illinois.
"With this being a state institution, you just automatically assume that academically it might be tougher to get into the school. This is an extremely challenging school to get into. As a public institution, this right here is one of the best in the country.
"The other thing is the retention rate of the students here and also the career-ability to set our students up once they graduate. All the big companies come back here every year to recruit our students. They consider us as the number three public school in the country.
Illinois sounds like the right school for myriad top football prospects, and Clinkscale does a good job of selling it. Now, if the Illini can win on the field and continue the early momentum they have gained with their initial efforts, the hard work will pay off.