Illinois football coaches use their summer camps for multiple purposes. Primarily an opportunity to evaluate prospects on the field, these camps also serve to help young athletes become familiar with the Illini brand according to Chad Creamer, assistant in the office of Player Personnel.
"It's not just high school kids. We'll have a youth camp for second to sixth graders; it'll start there. That's development. This university represents the whole state. We want these young kids to come out and experience it.
"If you're a second or third grade kid, and you get to run out on the field or get into the weight room, that's where it starts. Giving those kids good instruction and letting them have fun. Hopefully they take something away from it and get a good feeling about Illinois."
While the Illini have already sent out a number of scholarship offers, there are still athletes who have not yet been evaluated. Creamer reminds these camps are excellent for those who await discovery.
"Most of our camps are going to be geared toward those juniors and seniors, 2013 and 2014 kids. Let us evaluate them and see them in person. See what they can do on the field.
"Highlight film is great, but some kids may not have it. Sometimes it's tough to watch; something you want to watch may not be there. We want to see them in drills, see them work."
Of course, most of the Illini summer camps between the dates of June 8 and June 23 are for high school athletes to prove themselves worthy of receiving college scholarship offers. The June 8th camp is an advanced camp, the Illini's version of Friday Night Lights. Illinois coaches will all be working each camp looking for players they can recruit, but athletes not at that level can benefit as well.
"One thing we're big about is getting other universities here. Getting Illinois State and Eastern Illinois, a lot of the smaller schools from around the area, to come to these camps and showcase the talent that these young athletes have.
"We want to get them recognized and help them get scholarships. Giving them a platform to show what they can do. It may not be a scholarship to Illinois. It may be to another Division I school, or it may be to a Division II school. We feel it's a great place to do it."
Between June 11 and 14, the Illini will hold camps at seven locations around the state. They will be at Lincoln Way East High School and Chicago Mt. Carmel on June 11, Barrington and Rockford Boylan Catholic on June 12, East Peoria on June 13, and Edwardsville and O'Fallon on June 14. This endeavor is a labor of love for the coaches since the amount of work and preparation is immense.
"It is. But it's our time to shine in terms of evaluations and getting on the road. It's fast-paced and quick, but like we tell our players, you have to be able to think on your feet and adapt.
"So we are going to be one place in the morning; we'll get there early and get that set up. And then we'll tear it down and go to the second place. There's a lot of people involved. They did it at Toledo a number of years.
"There will be some people going around to the sites and checking them out before hand, getting logistics all in place. But at the end of the day, it's football, it's high school kids, and you're going around to see them. The coaches are excited for it. They'll work the kids out.
"We want to make it very accessible to the kids and make it as cheap as we can for them so they can get out there and showcase their talents. Get coached a little bit and maybe help them out, and have some fun with it."
Most upcoming seniors with multiple major college offers won't attend one-day camps. They have nothing to prove; their futures are secure. But there are still prospects worth discovering at these camps.
"Exactly. It gives us a chance to get a jump on a kid that is maybe younger and doesn't have a lot of film. Maybe he's sitting behind someone who's a senior who's a great player. It would be a great time for him to get noticed, to step out and leave an impression on us. Get him on our radar. I think that's a great opportunity for these kids, especially the younger ones.
"Even the rising seniors, there's a number of kids we haven't made a decision on. We like them but need to see more of them. If you want that opportunity, you need to get there."
The Illini already have 10 players committed for the 2013 class, more than ever before this early in the recruiting cycle. But a few weeks ago, Illini fans were bemoaning how far behind the Illini appeared to be in the recruiting game. Despite a recent commitment onslaught, some fans expect even more. Creamer explains why the Illini got off to a slow start and why patience is a virtue.
"We haven't been here long. A lot of coaches are in new areas, and they're learning those areas, learning those kids and building relationships. It takes time, like everything else. They need to get to know us, and we need to get to know them.
"We didn't fully know until after the spring what we have. So that really dictated what we are looking for. It allows us to measure the caliber of player we need to get in. The key in recruiting is to get better than what you have to improve. So we didn't know exactly where that level was at until we could get our kids on the field. We now have a better idea what we're looking for.
"There are obstacles that we are facing because of previous situations and circumstances that are there. You've got to build that back. I think all those things factor in."
Creamer assures Illini Nation the staff is involved with many extremely talented prospects.
"A lot of our top guys are still right there, and it's still early. Recruiting gets pushed back farther and farther, but these kids haven't even begun workouts for their senior year yet. They're still in their junior year of high school, so you don't want to rush them too much.
"There still a lot of things that change for guys. Nothing's on paper right now, and I think people kind of forget that sometimes. You've got to be patient with it and know it does take some time.
"They don't even have all their junior year transcripts yet. A lot of them are just now taking tests and beginning the process with the NCAA Clearinghouse.
"There's a lot you perceive looking from the outside, but a lot of things change between now and Signing Day next year. So I think you can get a better picture then. It's not always how you start, but how you finish. We feel very good with the start we've had."
Creamer and his boss Paul Nichols are working to grease the Illini recruiting wheel. Considering their jobs didn't exist this time last year, there is no doubt their efforts have helped improve Illini football recruiting. And the best is yet to come.