Illinois held a junior day on Saturday billed as the "St. Louis Takeover." Among those in attendance was Florissant (MO) Hazelwood Central ATH Dallas Craddieth.
Craddieth, who holds several P5 offers, joined a large contingent of fellow 314 recruits, and came away feeling that the Illini were making a big push to have a presence in St. Louis.
One of the trademarks of the new staff's recruiting approach is the emphasis on personal connections on visits. Craddieth really valued the time got to spend in conversation with Lovie.
"It was a pretty good visit," he said. "I liked everything and liked talking to Coach (Lovie) Smith."
Hosting so many St. Louis area targets, especially in a year where talent is rich in the Gateway to the West, showed Craddieth that Illinois also values the deep talent pool in his hometown.
"I take it as they're trying to compete and change things in the program," he said. "Competition is through the roof, and a lot of non-top guys are trying to get better daily."
That increased talent and competition has driven Craddieth to elevate his game to another level and continue working to improve himself.
"Yeah, it has motivated me to become a lot better," he said, "since mostly everybody is starting to become good players and I want to be great so I work to separate myself."
Craddieth, who Illinois is recruiting as a defensive back, plays both ways for his high school, however he says that most schools are targeting him as a defensive back.
Illinois running backs coach Thad Ward, a noted ace recruiter, has been hound-dogging the St. Louis area since arriving in Champaign. So, naturally, Craddieth has been building a solid relationship with the "Mayor of Littyville" over the past few months.
"We're building (a good relationship)," Craddieth said. "We're starting to talk more and more each week."
Aside from the Illini, who offered months ago, Craddieth holds offers from other Power 5 schools, and is hearing from even more on a regular basis.
"Iowa State, Mizzou, Vanderbilt, Iowa and Wisconsin have offered," he said. "Schools I don't have offers from recruiting me hard are Michigan and Louisville."
But the Illini staff are putting themselves in a good position with Craddieth early on by staying in frequent contact with him and making him feel important.
"Well since I talk to the coaches a lot and they come and see me a lot during the times they can, (Illinois) stands pretty well with me." he said. "I'm going to more than likely keep them in consideration when I narrow my choices this summer."