Illinois football assistants have finally hit the road recruiting, and they're hitting it hard.
At all times, Illinois has had multiple assistants in the state (Luke Butkus and Tim McGarigle have basically lived in Chicago, while Mike Phair visited many spots throughout the state), but the Illini also are prioritizing Florida (Paul Williams and Thad Ward are visiting the Sunshine State), Texas (Phair, Bob Ligashesky and Andrew Hayes-Stoker have visited the Lonestar State), Alabama (Garrick McGee is recruiting the Yellowhammer State) and California (Hardy Nickerson is recruiting his home state).
After joining the process late, the Illini staff still is trying to catch up and may have lost out on a few prospects, like Bolingbrook DE Izayah Green-May and S Isaiah Robertson. But after landing a few commitments and getting out on the road, the Illini are starting to build a foundation and some momentum.
Meanwhile, head coach Lovie Smith is planted in Champaign -- head coaches cannot recruit on the road during the spring evaluation period -- breaking down hours and hours of film.
The recruiting board is taking a more defined shape. But it will look clearer after the coaches return home, convene and confer and evaluate more film. The Illini will then evaluate more prospects during a few camps on campus and multiple satellite camps, including planned-but-still-in-the-works stops in Chicagoland, St. Louis, Florida and Texas.
Who's trending toward and away from the Illini at the moment?
In the fold
Players who have committed to Illinois since last update
Off the board
Players who have committed elsewhere since last update
Crete-Monee defensive back Juawan Treadwell visited on the same day Smalling and Smith committed to Illinois. Smith spent several minutes one-on-one with Treadwell while the Illini defensive backs were going through drills. The Illini, the only power five conference team to offer so far, are prioritizing the athletic Treadwell. Last week, Juawan attended the NFL Draft with his older brother, LaQuon, who was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings. Lovie helped develop a few good defensive backs during his NFL days. They have a good sell.
Crete-Monee defensive tackle John Mitchell hoped to attend the last Illini spring practice with Treadwell, his high school teammate, even though he visited earlier that month on April 9. He is a priority for the new Illini staff along the front line, where Illinois will likely add a handful of defensive line prospects. Right now, they are one of just two power-five offers along with Syracuse. Illinois has entrenched itself in this recruitment and looks like the leader. They'd like to get him on campus again soon.
The Illini are looking for big, versatile backs and Maleek Williams fits their bill. The Illini have made him a priority and assistant Thad Ward will visit him next week. Williams also has offers from Cincinnati, Colorado, Kentucky, NC State, North Carolina and South Florida. He told IlliniInquirer.com this week, "Definitely after spring, I'm definitely going to (visit) Illinois. Without a doubt. That's the number one spot I have to go to. Then I'm going to go to North Carolina and Arkansas probably."
The Illini are off to a great start at wide receiver in the Class of 2017, but they have taken a keen interest in Carmoni Green. The 6-foot receiver has the speed to take the tops off defenses and enough height and athleticism to be a red-zone target. Florida has offered, but will they push as hard as Illinois -- one of his few other power-five offers? Illinois will hope to get him on a visit at some point bu may have to wait until the fall.
Peoria Central wide receiver Jamir Whitelow visited Illinois with Kendrick Green recently, where the coaches told him he still has a scholarship offer. Whitelow and his family grew up Illini fans. Watch Ryan Easterling's interview with Whitelow. Needless to say, the Illini seem like they could close the deal soon if they want. But the staff wants to see him work out at a camp.
Despite a great frame and great academics, St. Charles (Ill.) North offensive tackle Isaac Hawn still hasn't blown up. Illinois may be fortunate there because they're taking their time with Hawn, who visited campus on April 9 but was not told by Illinois that he still has a committable offer. If he had, a commitment was possible. The previous staff really wanted him. Illinois will continue to evaluate him but the Illini's slow play likely has opened the doors for other power-five programs -- if they choose to get involved.
Marist linebacker Micah Awodiran is exactly the kind of playmaker Lovie Smith wants in his defense. That's why they've made him a priority. Awodiran visited Illinois on April 16 and spent a lot of time chatting with fellow in-state defender Olalere Oladipo. Landing both of them would be a huge in-state boon for Illinois. Awodiran has a lot of other interest (Mizzou offered this week), but Illinois has entrenched itself on his short list. He told IlliniInquirer.com last month that he plans a summer decision. "(Illinois) definitely have put themselves high on my list with this visit," he said. "I'll probably decide toward the end of summer. I want to have it all squared away so I can focus on going back to state with my brothers."
Lemont tight end Logan Christopherson visited Illinois on April 9, and the Illini really, really like him. He sports offers from four power-five programs: Illinois, Iowa State, Missouri and Syracuse. It's still early in the process for him, as he told Scout.com's Allen Trieu, and plans to visit several campuses this summer, including Iowa and Michigan. He recently visited Missouri and told BlackandGoldIllustrated's Nate Latsch: “I would say Illinois is up there too as well as Iowa State and Western Michigan,” Christopherson said. “But I was very impressed after this weekend visiting Mizzou.”
Kansas wideout Jafar Armstrong visited Illinois on April 20. The previous staff was the first power-five team to offer the speedy 6-foot receiver. The new staff is still evaluating Armstrong, but he is the type of big-play threat they're looking for. Armstrong recently received an offer from Kansas and has interest from Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa.
St. Thomas Aquinas running back Mike Epstein -- who committed to previous Illini coach Bill Cubit -- recently visited Michigan and received an offer from West Virginia last month. But Illinois feels confident that they have a good chance to hold onto him. Epstein told IlliniInquirer.com this week that he remains committed to Illinois but will continue to look at any options that come his way. Illinois will continue to recruit him hard, and Epstein seems attracted to playing for Smith.
The Illini are hoping to develop relationships in Alabama, where McGee has ties from his days as UAB's head coach. Zyon Gilbert visited Illinois with talented teammate Alec Jackson last week. The Illini are the first power-five team to offer the long defensive back.
The Illini are in need of at least a handful of defensive line prospects in the Class of 2017, and Joshua Maize is an intriguing prospect. He visited the Illini last month and told IlliniInquirer.com: "I talk to them, and I tell them I'm from Illinois. I want to play for Illinois. I love the state. I want to be here close to my friends and family and represent my state. So, hopefully I get the chance to do that." Maize currently has some MAC and FCS offers but could earn more Illini interest if he camps at Illinois this summer.
This arrow doesn't mean that Illinois doesn't have a chance at Huntley defensive end Olalere Oladipo. He visited Illinois on April 16 and visited with Smith for a long meeting where the Illini head coach made sure the Huntley product knew he was a priority. Illinois is on his short list, but the competition is getting stiff following recent offers from Michigan State and Penn State. Oladipo who wants to make a decision this summer, told IlliniInquirer.com last month, "Lovie's a really good guy. I wouldn't mind playing for him. He's a really good coach. I like what Illinois is doing."
Richmond-Burton offensive tackle Dalton Wagner is simply a massive human being -- a big reason he's starting to blow up a bit. Arkansas is making a big push, and California, Indiana, Missouri, Louisville, Syracuse and Utah also have offered.