Enter junior tight end Nick True. True visited the Illinois campus on Saturday for the matchup with Western Michigan, and despite no prior knowledge of the University of Illinois or the Illinois Football program, he was blown away by the experience.
"It was amazing," he said. "I'd never really heard much about Illinois because I live in the middle of Kentucky. I didn't know what to expect. I really like the coaching staff and of course the food was really good. The fans were amazing, the stadium was amazing. Everything there was really good."
The invitation True received to the game not knowing who exactly invited him, but once he got to campus, he got to meet Tight Ends Coach Alex Golesh and began to form a relationship with him.
"I actually got an invitation to a game that was general," he said, "but Coach Golesh, the Tight end coach was the one who wanted me to come. He ended up talking to me at the game too. It was the first time actually talking to him, but he seems like an awesome guy. I'd like to build that relationship more and possibly come up for another game."
The Illini were the first to host True this year, but he does have other visits planned throughout the season. Aside from some area schools, True said he would like to make a return trip to Illinois later in the year.
"Illinois is my first visit this year, but I have plans to see Cincinnati and an Ohio State game this year," said True. "I'll possibly go to a Louisville game too. Other than those, Wisconsin, possibly Vanderbilt, Miami (OH), and Michigan State."
True plans on being patient with his recruitment. A lot of prospects get caught up in the "here and now" of a team rather than look at their long-term potential, but True is more concerned with the big picture when it comes to examining schools.
And just like at his high school, True emphasized the importance of strong fan support.
"I'm not really focused on how good the team is this year, but I want to see how the coaches are like, how nice the campus is and how close everything is," he said. "The fans are big. I feel like it's a lot better to go to a school that has really good fans. The fans at my high school are crazy and the things they do for us. The parents would make shirts and hats to support us just to show up every single night. I don't think I know anyone around town that hasn't been to a Highlands game yet."
At True's size, he could easily play defensive end as well, but at his high school, players stick to one side of the ball. True finds value in that since it allows him to focus on a single position and master it.
"The way our high school team is set up, everyone plays only on one side of the ball," said True. "I've been playing tight end since freshman year, so I'm really looking forward to playing tight end in college."
At 6'7" tall and 235 pounds, True already has a great frame to be a college tight end. He also has the skills to go with that frame.
"I don't really like to brag, and I don't evaluate myself much," he said, "but coaches say I'm a good blocker. I'm not afraid to hit people when I'm running routes and I run good routes. My hands are alright but I need to work on those a bit."
Still, True considers himself a constant work in progress at his position.
"I've been working on my upper-body strength and my speed," he said. "Tight ends are getting faster, and even if everyone said I was complete, I would still have something to work on. If it was up to me, I'd say I need to work on everything, no matter how good I am at it."
This year at Highlands, True no longer has Kentucky freshman quarterback Patrick Towles throwing him the ball, but he says the adjustment to new personnel has been minimal.
"Really, the only thing I had to adjust to was passes that aren't as hard," said True. "Patrick threw some of the hardest passes I ever caught in my life. Now it seems like it's easier since they aren't coming in as fast. Other than that, the team is pretty much the same. Patrick did what our coaches expected him to do. The only difference is our quarterback is a little shorter."
True figures into Highlands' (and opponents') gameplans significantly regardless of whether they run or pass the ball. Either way, True is ready to do what is asked of him. Although, he does admit that he wouldn't mind seeing a few more passes thrown his way.
"I haven't really paid attention to how other teams try to stop me," he said. "I just play the same as I do every game as hard as I can. We haven't run that many pass plays because we've run the ball so well the last couple weeks. We used a lot of two TE sets. I'm hoping to get a few more pass plays though."