Behind the scenes: Illini football recruiting staff meeting

Illini Inquirer gained access to an Illinois football staff recruiting meeting on Saturday, Jan. 16. Take a look behind the scenes into what goes into an official visit weekend and how the new-look Illini staff approaches recruiting.

Illinois football head coach Bill Cubit leads a guest into the Illini staff meeting room. The decades-old room in the decades-old football office building is not all that fancy. There aren’t many bells and whistles.

But for most outsiders, it’s a bit of a wonder.

This space -- about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide with a large executive table in the middle -- is what is often referred to in sports as “the war room."

The walls are covered by dry erase boards. The south wall features a long dry erase board that contains a wealth of information. The left side of this board is reserved for recruits in the current recruiting class (now the class of 2016). Each position has a column. Each column features magnetic player cards stacked based on priority: the top-rated guys on top with the other targets in descending order by preference.

The right side of the south wall is devoted to Class of 2017 recruits, again broken into columns by position. These 2017 columns contain more rows of magnetic player cards since the 2016 resources are running low with just 11 days left before the Feb. 3 Signing Day.

The middle of the south wall is reserved for commits: the top half of the small space reserved for 2016 commits, the bottom half for 2017 commits. On this day, Jan. 16, the 2016 class listed 18 commits -- fewer than is listed publicly because the staff expects one "commit" will not enroll at Illinois -- with about six or seven slots left empty, slots the staff aims to fill in the coming weeks. The 2017 class currently lists just one commit, but the focus doesn’t fully turn to that class until later this month for the first of several junior days.

The north wall features a drawn year-long calendar. The west wall features the Illini depth chart. The graduated seniors are already off the board, a process that happened quickly after the Illini’s season-ending loss to Northwestern at Soldier Field on Saturday.

Following a 5-7 season, the Illini lost several seniors who will have a shot at the NFL: defensive lineman Jihad Ward, running back Josh Ferguson, guard Ted Karras, safety Clayton Fejedelem and receiver Geronimo Allison. Those losses leave the depth chart with many questions.

The meeting on this late Saturday morning is meant to help answer some of those questions, some short-term (a priority for this staff) and more long-term.

Most of the Illini staff is gathered in the meeting room -- offensive coordinator Ryan Cubit, outside linebackers coach Al Seamonson, defensive coordinator Mike Phair and defensive backs coach Paul Williams are all absent as they were still traveling back from visits to recruits -- when Bill Cubit walks through the door.

Cubit sits at the head of the table on the east side of the room. Director of football operations sits closest to the left of Cubit. The offensive coaches present -- wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy, tight ends coach Jeff Hecklinski, offensive line coach A.J. Ricker and running backs coach Nathan Scheelhaase -- sit in chairs on the south wall with team athletic trainer Jeremy Busch seated in the southwest corner behind them. Strength and conditioning coach Aaron Hillman sitsopposite of Cubit on the long table. The lone defensive assistant in attendance, linebackers coach Tim McGarigle, sits to Cubit’s right with recruiting staffers Pat Embleton and Scott Yielding sitting to his right.

Cubit, sitting in the head chair, officially opens business for an important weekend, the first of the final three official visit weekends leading up to Signing Day.

* * * * * * *

There is no gavel to call to order this meeting. Robert’s Rules of Order would just be a hindrance here. Timing is of the essence with recruits arriving in Champaign within the hour.

Cubit starts the meeting informally. He tells tales of his last few days in Chicago. Most of the staff members have had a whirlwind week following the end of the month-long dead period, which prohibits coaches from visiting and directly calling or texting recruits (they can message recruits through social media). The staff zig-zagged across the country, visiting recruits at their schools or in their homes.

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