Specialists often are the most overlooked players on a football roster -- unless something goes wrong. But Illinois held a camp just for kickers, punters and long snappers on Wednesday, so it's clear that special teams is important to Lovie Smith's staff.
Special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky led dozens of high school specialists through drills at Memorial Stadium, and he invited one of the Midwest's best special teams units.
Goshen (Ky.) North Oldham teammates Jakson Wine (kicker) and Bryce Webb (punter) both are FBS prospects, and both shined at Illinois -- which will likely sign a scholarship punter and possibly a long snapper in the Class of 2017.
The Mustangs specialists bring out the best in each other, and pushed each other again on Wednesday.
"I'll challenge Bryce to a punt off but I never quite win," Wine said. "I don't think he'd want to challenge me to a kick-off though. It's a luxury to have two of the best punters and kickers in the nation on the same team, and we feel that we have the best punter-kicker combo in the country, hands down."
Webb received a lot of attention from Illini coaches following a strong punting performance.
"It went great," Webb said. "Lots of good coaches and instructional parts to really learn the strategic parts of kicking."
Webb was asked to stay after the camp to talk with Ligashesky.
"Coach Ligashesky told me that we will definitely keep talking with each other," Webb said. "Basically, it's the next step in the recruiting process, but he said he likes to have an athletic punter like me. I play quarterback too, so that's why he had said an athletic punter. But we will keep in touch, and I'll send him my highlights through the season."
Webb also is receiving interest from Penn State, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Marshall and Fordham. Illinois seemed to leave an impression this week.
"I liked the campus and the field was pretty cool," Webb said. "How the outside was built in the old stone days, it has the old timing look too it makes it pretty unique."
Meanwhile, Wine won both the kickoff and field goal competitions.
"It went really well," Wine said. "I won the field goal competition and all of my kickoffs went out of the end zone. I talked to Coach Lig afterwards and basically he said that the old coaching staff offered a '16 kicker and that kicker is coming next year (James McCourt), so there's not a scholarship available. He said he wish he could've gave me a scholarship, but it was out of his control. I still had a great time though."
Wine is also receiving interest from Louisville, Charlotte and Western Kentucky.
"Louisville is looking the most promising so far," Wine said. "I don't have any scholarship offers yet, but I'm expecting some soon."