Jeremy Werner: The college football recruiting dead period is upon us, Mr. Latsch. It's been a hectic spring. But in my opinion, one of the more interesting storylines that has developed during the past few months has been an uptick in the recruiting rivalry between Illinois and Missouri in the Greater St. Louis area. Even if they no longer play each other on the field, the Illini and Tigers will continue battling for players. Both programs enter new eras behind new coaches, Lovie Smith at Illinois and Barry Odom at Missouri. Before we look forward, let's look back for a second.
To be blunt, Mizzou has owned Illinois in St. Louis since Ron Zook -- who had a few very good years recruiting in that city -- was dismissed in 2011. The most recent win for Mizzou over Illinois was East St. Louis guard Tre'Vour Simms, whose Signing Day decision was a big blow to the previous Illini staff given the relationship they'd built with Simms. Obviously, Mizzou has won games in the toughest conference in college football. But what is the difference in perception between Illinois and Mizzou in that area?
Nate Latsch: The early impressions of the Lovie Smith era in the St. Louis area have been positive, though Smith has yet to land his first commitment from the area. Missouri had obviously taken control of the area during the Gary Pinkel era, landing top recruits like Jeremy Maclin, Blaine Gabbert, Sheldon Richardson (twice), Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo., via St. Louis) and then most recently Terry Beckner out of East St. Louis. The Illini were able to grab a couple good recruits out of the area over the years, but from a head-to-head standpoint I think everyone would say Missouri had more success than Illinois and a couple of those recruits went on to do good things in Columbia and then also in the NFL. Both programs are different now with new head coaches but they are beginning to face off for St. Louis area recruits and the recruitment of St. Louis University High WR-CB Tony Adams will be fascinating to watch in that regard.
Werner: How has Odom been received and do you think Mizzou is more vulnerable in any ways now?
Latsch: I don’t know if vulnerable is the word I would use, but you are talking about an unproven first-time head coach in the Southeastern Conference in Barry Odom and a team coming off a losing season. You also have to figure that there are probably some schools using the unrest and protests on campus last fall to negatively recruit against the Tigers. There’s just some uncertainty there about whether Missouri will continue to be a successful program under Odom because nobody knows yet. Personally, I think he’s an impressive guy to be around. He played linebacker for the Tigers and was lauded then for his toughness and leadership. He’s proven to be a good defensive coordinator with his work with the Tigers in 2015, when they were one of the better defenses in the country. I think he’ll be a good head coach but since he has yet to coach his first game no one really knows how he will do.
Werner: Yup, and Lovie Smith is the one with more ground to make up. He needs a first win in a Border War battle though, and his first big test appears to be St. Louis University High athlete Tony Adams. The Illini offered Adams after his great performance at their St. Louis satellite camp on June 7. A few days later, Mizzou offered after Adams impressed at a camp on their campus. Adams, who grew up an Illini fan, visited Illinois last week with his parents and said that Illinois "could be home." Illinois looks like it has the upperhand, but Mizzou will get a chance to make up ground next month on a visit. Illinois would like to win a battle over Mizzou after losing in-state TE Logan Christopherson, who the Illini really wanted, to the Tigers.
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1680793-visit-to-illini-pret... Trinity Catholic offensive lineman Larry Boyd included both Missouri and Illinois in his top eight. Pattonville OL Marquis Hayes also has offers from both sides of the Border War. Illinois looks like it has ground to make up in both recruitments. Given how late the Illini staff joined the process -- the staff wasn't fully in place this April -- the Illini may have a better chance to make a statement in St. Louis in future class. 2018 prospects Kaleb Eleby, Ronnie Perkins and Cameron Brown are just a few receiving a lot of Illini interest, and 2019 athlete Isaiah Williams has received an offer too.
Which recruitments are you watching most closely in this Arch rivalry?
Latsch: I’m watching all those recruitments closely, to be honest, but you can narrow it down to Adams, Boyd and Hayes.
One thing to consider with Adams is he’s actually an Illinois kid. He lives in Belleville and commutes across the river to go to SLUH. So when he says he grew up as an Illinois fan that’s obviously a pretty big deal. Does Illinois have the edge with Adams? Possibly. The Illini were the first to offer — even though it’s only by a few days — and it’s his home state school and he’s already been there for an unofficial visit. I don’t know if Adams got much of a chance to look around at Missouri when he was in Columbia for one of their camps. I do know Missouri is planning a big recruiting event in late July where Adams and other key recruiting targets (and verbal commitments) will be together.
Missouri definitely has the edge with Boyd and Hayes. I thought both of those guys could have committed to the Tigers already and they still could. If Lovie Smith can pull one or both of them over to Illinois that would be a nice coup for the Illini.
Smith has been smart though to go after the Class of 2018 kids in the area and offer some of them early. I know Missouri is looking at ’18 QBs Kaleb Eleby and Tyler Foote but I think the Tigers will take their time evaluating both of those kids because they may only take one quarterback in that class and they obviously want to get the right one.