Illini Spring Practice Report (April 2)

Wind pushes Illini indoors; Smith discusses two new staff additions

CHAMPAIGN - If it were a fall Saturday, Illinois would've had to play through the 40-50 mph wind gusts. But since the object of spring ball is to improve, Illini head coach Lovie Smith moved most of Saturday's practice -- the team's second of the spring -- to the indoor facility.

"This wind is too much today," Smith said. "We need to take advantage of each one of these (15) practices."

The Illini performed their walkthrough and stretch portions of Saturday's practice on the grass fields to the east of Memorial Stadium. But Smith moved most of the Illini's positional and team drills to the Irwin Indoor Facility. Though, the offensive and defensive linemen did perform their positional drills outside to give the skill players more room to operate on the shorter indoor field.

Smith won't make any huge conclusions on his personnel through two non-padded practices.

"Way too soon," Smith said. "We set the bar yesterday. We wanted to see improvement today. That's happening. Guys knowing what to do as much as anything. We've had two non-padded practices. You don't see too much in it, but we got to see the guys running around, see how they pick up things mentally. So, it's a process. Day Two was a success."

The new staff will continue to analyze video of its personnel.

"It's just improvement," Smith said. "We don't play tomorrow. We don't  put too much in where we are right now. We just want to be able to continue to evaluate. We don't know any of the players. They're telling us a little bit more about them each day. We have a long ways to go."

The players will get two days off before their first padded practice of the spring. Though, they'll have an early wake-up call for Tuesday's 6 a.m. session.

"You get a chance to hit," Smith said. "There's no contact out here (so far). Non-padded practices, you shouldn't have any. Tuesday, we'll have a padded practice and now you can start to tell a little bit more about the linemen. We've been able to look at the skill guys a little bit right now, but now we'll be able to tell a little but more about the linemen."

Strengthening the program

Smith completed his assistant coaching staff about two weeks ago, but he's still filling out his support staff.

Joey Boese (pronounced boze-EH) officially has replaced Aaron Hillman as the team's strength and conditioning coach. He spent the previous four years in the same role at Fresno State.

"I've known Joey for a while," Smith said. "I tried to hire him down in Tampa when I got down there. Energy. Expertise. He played football, knows the position. Everything you look for in a strength coach he is."

While most fans don't often see the strength and conditioning coach, the staffer is one of the most important for the program. The strength and conditioning coach not only shapes the bodies of the players but plays a big role in preventing injuries. And no staffer spends more time with the players.

"He spends so much time, especially in the offseason, with our guys," Smith said. "This time of year, he's critical. Even as we go into spring ball, we want to get bigger, stronger, faster still. Joey and his team are all on top of that."

Recruiting boost

Smith also tabbed the head of his recruiting efforts.

Though the paperwork isn't finalized on his hire, Belvidere, Ill. native Josh Sternquist -- who spent the previous four seasons as New Mexico's director of football recruiting -- will be named the Illini's director of player personnel. 

Sternquist has previous Big Ten experience, serving as the assistant recruiting coordinator at Minnesota from 2008-12 and as football and recruiting operations assistant at Wisconsin from 2004-08. He played football at Wisconsin-Whitewater and graduated in 2004.

Sternquist is in Champaign, attended practice this weekend and met with many in-state high school coaches during the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association convention.

"Another big hire for me, for us," Smith said. "It's all about recruiting, replenishing the talent pool. Really impressed with Josh. An Illinois guy. Loves the university. Loves the state. Excited about being here. Has a great plan. I talked to a lot of people. In the end, it was kind of an easy decision to go with Josh."

While only the 10 coaches can recruit off campus, Sternquist will lead the organization of all Illinois football recruiting efforts. He will lead recruiting scheduling and planning and work with the compliance office and admissions office.

Previously at Illinois, these duties have been left to an assistant. But with burgeoning college football staffing budgets, many power-five programs are creating more player personnel departments.

Last year, Illinois had just two staffers devoted solely to recruiting. That number will multiply under Smith.

"It's fluid right now, but we're going to have a few people down there," Smith said.

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