Chad Creamer, assistant to Paul Nichols in the Player Personnel office, recognizes the problem. Many Illinois football prospects have minimal loyalty to their state school. To recruit them successfully, one must become involved early in their careers and then prove to them the Illini will have continued success on the football field. It takes time for a new coaching staff to overcome previous problems.
"Definitely, the earlier the better. You want it to be ingrained that this is a great program. So you start with winning football games and earning championship banners. That makes it that much nicer and easier.
"Right now, we don't have that because this fall will be our first season. The big thing Coach (Tim) Beckman is always going to talk about, and we feel separates ourselves, is the people here and the people they're going to be coached by.
"At the end of the day, it's easy for us to get a kid to come here because we feel we have the best coaches, whether that's strength staff or on-the-field coaches. The education speaks for itself, the wide variety of schools and majors is top in the country. We feel the big thing is to get these kids to see that.
"What's on TV and who's winning is obviously big, and that will take time for us to build. The earlier we can catch them, the better for us. Getting them to campus, getting them to see what's here, getting them to get to know the coaches...that's why we've gone to every school. We are going to come to them rather than make them come to us.
"Our camps this summer, we're going to travel to different spots around Illinois, so they don't have to come to Champaign. They can get to know the staff at different locations. It makes it easier for them.
"We are getting out to all the schools because we don't want to miss anyone. We want to build those relationships and make sure every kid has that opportunity."
Illini coaches are burning the midnight oil to develop a program for which they and Illini Nation will be proud. The 2013 kids have been recruited by other staffs for at least a year now. Illinois is working to catch up, and there are indications it is working, at least on some players. But it will be the 2014 class that may best define the Illini coaches' potential as recruiters.
"Maybe some schools have a jump on 2014 kids, but we're there with them. There will be no excuses for us. They will have a whole season to watch on the field, so that's plenty of opportunity for us to get in there, get to know the kids, let the kids get to know us. Put a product on the field that they want to see.
"We know the kids are skeptical. We can tell them about our offense, we can tell them about our defense, our style and what it's going to look like. But until they visually see it and it actually happens, it's a little bit tougher. We'll have that behind us to back us.
"And then there'll be plenty of time to get these kids to camp, Junior Days, whatever it may be to get around them and let them get to know us. I think that's more than plenty of time."
The elephant in the closet is the fall football season. Many top prospects want to see Illinois win games and play an exciting brand of ball this fall before they will jump on the bandwagon. Illini coaches can talk until they are blue in the face, but results on the field matter most.
"You can't really hide from that. Recruiting a lot of times, you can make something look a certain way. There are things you can do to make this situation better than it is. But that record is always going to speak for itself. There's no way to mask that, disguise that and make it look better than it is. We know that.
"And not only what these kids do on the field, but what they do in the community to giving back, paying forward. So all those things, as well as our record on the field. That's what it's all about."
With as many good programs and coaches as there are in the Big 10 conference, it would not be surprising to see some prospective coaches shun a program like Illinois. They might think it impossible to beat all the stiff competition. But UI coaches embrace it and seek prospects who are willing to accept the challenge with them.
"It is a good conference, there's a lot of competition. But we want kids coming here who thrive in that and can take Illinois to that next level. And be able to compete for national championships and conference championships.
"It's never not going to be tough going against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin or whatever. But that's what we want as coaches, and the kids we want to recruit will accept that challenge."
In part four, Creamer talks about summer camps for prospects. And he reminds the value of patience when anticipating final results of 2012 recruiting.