Can Illini build stronger ties in Florida?

Illinois prioritizes prospects within a 200-mile radius, including the state, Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. But they're also focusing on four areas outside the region: Texas, Florida, Alabama and California. Over the next week,'s regional reporters weigh in on Illinois' opportunities, challenges and keys to success in each area and provide a few prospects to watch. Today, Corey Bender breaks down the Illini's efforts in the Sunshine State.

While Ohio was Tim Beckman's preferred state to recruit -- eight starters from last season's team hailed from The Buckeye State, more than Illinois' home state (five) -- Florida was successor Bill Cubit's favorite recruiting base. After all, he and his wife have a home there.

On Signing Day, Cubit -- who would be fired a month later -- signed seven Florida prospects, four more than the next highest state (Texas, three signees). Cubit had strong relationships in Florida, especially at state powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. So the Sunshine State isn't a new territory for Illinois football.

Yet, no offense to Cubit, the Illini head coach now recruiting Florida probably carries a little more weight there.

Lovie Smith owns a big house in the Tampa area, where he coached the NFL team for the previous three years and was a linebackers coach under Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy from 1996-2000.

Illinois running backs coach Thad Ward also has relationships in his native state. The Tallahassee native played at Central Florida, coached at Florida A&M and a Tallahassee high school and has recruited the state for the last decade, most recently for Florida-heavy Northern Illinois.

Meanwhile, defensive backs coach Paul Williams recruited the state extensively for five years on the Miami staff.

The state of Florida churns out more talent per capita than any state in the union and produced 389 FBS players last season. Can Illinois land bigger stars from the Sunshine State? Florida recruiting analyst Corey Bender weighs in.


Corey Bender, Florida recruiting analyst

Opportunity: The state of Florida is arguably the country's largest hot bed for Division I talent, so it's no surprise that Illinois and a countless amount of additional schools dip into the state year-round. The state of Florida's 2017 recruiting class features hundreds of Division I prospects, so not every kid can attend the likes of Florida, Florida State and Miami. There's certainly enough talent to go around, and Florida produced a total of 30 NFL Draft picks this year as well. The numbers tell it all.

Challenges: It's not always the easiest thing to convince a young man to leave the sunshine and palm trees for the Midwest, especially when you've never seen snow before. There's also been some coaching turnover after going 5-7 in 2015, so I imagine that some kids will be taking a wait-and-see approach.

Keys to success: It was under the previous coaching staff, but Illinois has done a good job of establishing a pipeline at powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, and relocating over 1,000 miles away is much easier when you have a close friend to lean on. Winning always helps, but staying persistent, selling prospects on possible early playing time, and offering multiple prospects at the same high school are some keys to success.

Intriguing prospect: Keep an eye on 2017 Miami (Fla.) Central wide receiver, Carmoni Green, who would likely possess 15-20 offers if he wasn't all bundled up in talent-rich Miami. Pittsburgh and Oregon State are the additional Power Five offers on the table, but Lovie Smith's staff has wasted no time making Green a top priority at the wide receiver position. He has options, but is still under-recruited in my opinion.

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