CHAMPAIGN - Illinois scheduled Thursday's barbecue recruiting event for a chance to welcome a few dozen of their priority targets to campus.
That's why Gurnee (Ill.) Warren 2017 wide receiver Jalin Tolbert was so excited to get an invite. He was one of the few prospects on campus Thursday who does not currently hold an Illini scholarship offer.
"I got a lot of chemistry with the players, some potentially future teammates," Tolbert said "I talked to the coaches a little bit. It was a really positive visit overall. It was kind of reassuring."
Illinois has shown increased interest in Tolbert, who camped for the Illinois in June at its Barrington satellite camp where he ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash. As a junior -- across from top 2018 Illini target Micah Jones -- Tolbert had 28 receptions for 614 yards and five touchdowns.
So is an Illini offer on the way?
"They told me toward the middle of the season, maybe after Game 3," Tolbert said. "They said, 'We just want to see a little more from you.' I just got to push a little bit more the first few games, and then after that I should be receiving my offer."
Again, Tolbert called the feedback "reassuring."
"I don't really feel pressure," Tolbert said. "I feel confident. I feel like all I got to do is go out there and do what I've been working for this whole time. It's basically like, it's right there and all I got to do is step over the finish line."
Tolbert toured the campus and spent the afternoon with fellow recruits, Illinois players and Smith's staff.
"I think it's a very positive staff," Tolbert said "They come off with very good vibes. I don't feel any negative energy off of them. It really feels like it's a place you can call home."
Tolbert admitted that he'd "really like this (Illinois) offer," but said he also has interest from other schools, including Northern Illinois, Indiana and Central Michigan.
"I got other schools," said Tolbert, who will visit Iowa this weekend with Jones. "But it feels good to have an opportunity to play ball really close to home, close to a lot of people you know."
After the previous Illinois staff signed just two in-state prospects for the Class of 2016, LovieSmith's staff is trying to build a strong in-state group in 2017 and beyond. Tolbert was one of several who made the trip. All five in-state commits -- Cam Thomas, Vederian Lowe, Ricky Smalling, Kendall Smith and Marc Mondesir -- attended the barbecue and spent time building relationships with the other in-state prospects, including Tolbert, Jones, Olalere Oladipo, Micah Awodiran, Verdis Brown and Quincy Patterson.
"I think this group is coming together pretty well," Tolbert said. "We all know each other from a lot of events. Coming to the school isn't even the first time we've encountered each other. We encounter each other throughout our seven-on-sevens and different places. We encounter each other all the time, so we're real familiar with each other. We have positive vibes. We're always competing, so we kind of know what we're getting out of each other. It's not like our first time together, so it's just like being out there and having fun. And you already know who you're having fun with, so it's not like you're stepping into a new world."