USA Today // Mike Granse

Illinois Football Recruiting: A concerning "state" of affairs to start 2018

So far in the class of 2018, Fourteen players from the state of Illinois are committed to BCS programs. Only one of those commits is pledged to the in-state Illini. Given Lovie's name recognition in the state of Illinois, the struggles so far are definitely reason for concern.

Devin O'Rourke, Luke Ford, Jack Sanborn, Brian Kaiser, Wyatt Blake, Elijah Teague, Ben Bryant, Jeff Jenkins, Greg Newsome, Quincy Patterson, Charlie Schmidt, Micah Jones, and now Hunter Woodard.  

What do these players have in common? Well, for one, they are all from the state of Illinois.  They also all are committed to a school other than Illinois.

Not every one of these players had offers from Illinois, but several did, and a few of them were guys who Illinois really should be able to land.  Which begs the question.  What's going on? 

Now before you go and hammer the panic button, it's still early in the process, and Illinois has traditionally been strong in the month of June.  But with commitments happening earlier and earlier every year, have the Illini missed the boat on a lot of their key targets from within their own borders?

Take the most recent target to commit elsewhere, for example.  Hunter Woodard, who lives in Tuscola just a half hour down the road from Memorial Stadium, was offered about a week ago.  That offer followed both Oklahoma State and Syracuse.  Why didn't Illinois offer first?  What held them up?  Illinois knows what they want in offensive linemen and do a fairly good job of evaluating, but not being the first offer for a guy that close is a bit of a mystery.

Or in Luke Ford's case: Lovie and staff pulled out all the stops on his visit.  It was personal, it was extravagant, it hit home with Ford, then two days later, he commits to Arkansas.  Why? Well, for one, Arkansas has multiple Mackey Award winners they can brag on.  Two, they win.

Illinois had a strong in-state class in 2017, and several of those key in-state guys bought in early.  Ricky Smalling, Kendall Smith, Vederian Lowe, Olalere Oladipo, Marc Mondesir, and Cam Thomas all committed before the fall season began.  Illinois also landed stud DT Kendrick Green after the season and uncovered sleepers Alex Palczewski and James Knight over the winter.  All said and done, Illinois inked nine players from within the state in 2017. Ten, if you include Belleville native Tony Adams, who attended St. Louis University High School across the river in Missouri.

At the rate things are going now, I would be absolutely shocked if half he 2018 class is made up of in-state targets.

OK, I get it, Houston Griffith and Verdis Brown left the state to attend IMG.  But those two are toss-ups, especially Griffith, who hasn't voiced an abundance interest in Illinois.  

The Illinois staff has two of the most recognizable names in Chicago football on their staff: Lovie & Butkus.  Their lone commit is from Peoria.  So why has the trail gone cold in the Land of Lincoln?

When the evaluation period began this week, Illinois had six coaches recruiting the state of Illinois alone.  Too little, too late?  Perhaps, but here are a few of the in-state targets left on the board in whom the Illini have shown substantial interest.

Who's Left?

The Marist product became one of the top targets at tight end when Luke Ford committed to Arkansas.  A bit raw, but very athletic, Ivy is a big guy who can really move.  Ford is one of the nation's best, but Ivy is nothing to scoff at.  Just don't let him get away, because it really starts to drop off after him.

A likely Iowa/NIU lean, Evans is one of the state's most versatile athletes.  He wants to play quarterback in college (hence the high interest in NIU), but is open to other positions.  With Coran Taylor already committed, Illinois would have to sell him on slot receiver or safety, most likely, and that could be a tough sell.

Effner is rumored to be a Penn State lean, and the Illini have yet to offer.  With the Hunter Woodard development, do things change and do the Illini go full-court press on the in-state target?  Again, might just be too late.

Robinson is a really intriguing target.  Listed as a TE, he's built more like a receiver, and is a really quick-twitch athlete.  Illinois hasn't offered yet, but if they're serious about recruiting him, they may want to before other schools do.

Illinois has high interest in Cox, who is another Peoria product, but have held off from offering Cox a scholarship thus far as they monitor how his knee injury has healed.  If he shows this summer that he is recovered and back up to speed, I would expect the green light on an offer for a guy from a city that has been very good to the Illini over the years.

If Not Illinois, Then Where?

So if the in-state draw this class is going to be underwhelming, then the Illini really need to strike gold in other locations.  The staff has put a heavy priority on St. Louis, Florida, parts of Texas, and more recently, California, Georgia and Alabama.  But how viable are these options to fuel the Illini class?  

It's a bit of feast or famine in St. Louis. The Illini are in good position with linebacker Ayodele Adeoye, have recently hosted defensive linemen Michael Thompson Jr. and Ronnie Perkins, and seem to be in contention with receivers Cameron Brown and Dallas Craddieth.  But schools from all across the country have invaded the STL this year hoping to get their share of the spoils. Competition will be stiff there.

Florida is also a perennially talent-rich state, but with a lot of top targets there either already off the board or looking more intently elsewhere, the staff may have to lean on their ability to evaluate and find some under-the-radar targets.

Oh, and then there's that slew of offers that has recently gone out in California.  The staff, especially defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson, have connections in the Golden State, but have just recently increased their emphasis on recruiting that area after signing just one prospect from the west coast in 2017 in DB Bennett Williams.

Will Texas be good to Illinois?  It wasn't in 2017 as Illinois was blanked in the Lone Star State.  With heavy ties to the state of Texas on the staff, the Illini will have to rebound and till the Texas soil for some athletes in 2018.

Time Ticking?

As I mentioned earlier, Illinois has traditionally seen a burst of commitments over the summer, beginning especially in June.  So I don't expect that to be any different this year.  But by that point, what will be left?  The camp season will be crucial for Illinois, and with the NCAA modifying rules regarding both satellite camps and installing an early signing period, the Illini may not have the luxury of a late surge in January and February like they did last year.  

Other schools are on the "close early, close often" train.  And while this staff doesn't seem to be the type to pressure hard on-the-spot for commitments, they may want to tweak their philosophy a bit to make sure that they aren't left standing without a chair when the music stops this winter.  

So is it time to panic? Nah, not yet.  After all, a strong season this fall could cause several committed targets to again consider Illinois.  But if June passes and the cupboard is still bare, then it might be time to be genuinely worried.

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