Illinois defensive coordinator and safety coach Tim Banks needed to add depth at the safety spots with this past Signing Day. He was rewarded with three prospects, Taylor Barton, B.J. Bello and Tajarvis Fuller. He was asked how they will fit in with the rest of his group.
"It's hard to say. We are dealing with freshmen. But I am excited about Barton, Bello and Fuller. We're excited about the potential that those kids have. The reality of it is, you won't know much until you get a chance to work with them, see how they react to coaching, just the whole college environment.
"Fuller is here right now, and he'll have a chance to show what he has this spring. So by getting into the system early, hopefully it will bode well for him."
Fred Stokes, an assistant coach at Orlando, Florida's Lake Highland Prep, says he'd like to see Barton play strong safety due to his size and ability to go downhill on running plays. Banks is not yet willing to pass judgment on him or any of the others.
"Schematically, free and strong are just names. A lot of it is formation-based. I don't know where he's best suited just yet. But I know this, he'll play to whatever his skill set suggests. We'll put him in the best possible position to be successful. We'll figure that out once he starts getting some reps under his belt."
How would Banks describe the prototypical safety?
"Athleticism is huge. Being able to change directions. Length is obviously something you'd like to have at safety. Really, just football awareness because he has to be able to make plays, not just physically but mentally.
"Being able to get us in the right coverages, diagnose plays and execute those. So basically size, athleticism and high football IQ are three of the things we look for.
"But In all honesty, the first thing we look for in all our recruits is character. Making sure he's a good kid and has a passion to play the game of football."
Banks is responsible for recruiting an area within Illinois. Out-of-state, he will return to areas in which he has enjoyed success in the past.
"I'll have a portion of Florida, primarily the Tampa and Lakeland areas. And I have South Georgia. I'll have Fulton County, and I'll work my way down South from there. In Illinois, I have the deep South."
He is also responsible for every safety regardless of location, plus helping out all the other defensive coaches.
"Once we identify the guys that we want, we'll actively recruit and help each other. Particularly on the defense, I'll have a hand in all of them."
Illinois coaches have their work cut out for them in terms of recruiting. To get the best players, you must out-recruit powerhouse schools accustomed to winning and having special access to top prospects. Banks is convinced these barriers can be overcome.
"I think for the most part, recruiting is always about relationships. I think if you look at our staff, we have a great combination of youth and experience. I think that will bode well in the recruiting process.
"I kind of hit the ground running when I got the job here. I had a chance to travel with Coach (Tim) Beckman, and a lot of the assistants would meet up with us at different places. I got a chance first and foremost to see how they interacted with the kids. I have no doubt in my mind we'll be able to hold our own in any recruiting battle.
"I think ultimately there's enough kids out there. What we have to offer from an educational standpoint and a great university to play football at, I think we have a great resource here that we'll be able to sell and market. We're going to get the word out to those kids what we have. I think if the kids give us a chance, they'll like what they see."
Opposing coaches love to push Illinois down with recruits. Among the scare tactics they're using this year is the fact the new Illini coaching staff hasn't won any games on the field. This implies the Illini will not be a winning program, but they haven't lost any games yet either.
"We don't worry about what other schools are saying. All we can do is go to the home when appropriate, or go to school and evaluate the kids and really get to know them. I think once those kids get to know us and figure out all the things we have to offer, I think regardless of how many games we've played, they understand they can get a great education here.
"And they've got a chance to play at a great school that has a great tradition. And they've got a chance to come here and compete. I think if the kids are interested in that type of experience, I don't think we'll have any hard times recruiting those type of kids."