Illinois defensive line coach Mike Phair made the trek to Peoria High School on Tuesday to meet with some of the players on the defending Class 5A state champions.
Peoria’s running back, Geno Hess has piqued some Illinois interest. But Phair was unable to talk with him because he was busy at track practice.
“I didn’t get the chance to talk to him because I was at track,” Hess said. “But I’m in touch with them about every day.”
Hess is a Class of 2018 prospect who made national news last year when he rushed for 567 yards and eight touchdowns in a 70-63 win over Normal Community. He finished his junior campaign rushing for 2,821 yards and 44 touchdowns.
But he thinks there is room for improvement.
“I’m focused on improving my blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield,” Hess said. “Also becoming a better leader for the guys coming in and trying to set the tone as quickly as possible.”
Hess stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds, and relies on his sharp cuts and good vision to elude bigger defenders.
Miami (Ohio), Ball State, and Southern Illinois have shown interest in Hess alongside Illinois. The Illini haven’t offered him a scholarship yet.
“They just said they’ll keep in touch with me,” Hess said.
Illinois has worked hard to start a “Peoria pipeline” with the signing of 2017 defensive tackle Kendrick Green and a commitment from 2018 quarterback Coran Taylor.
Hess would love nothing more than to rejoin his former teammates at Illinois.
“It would be great to get to play with them again,” Hess said. “Those are guys I grew up playing with in all the JFL games and in high school.”
Hess is particularly close with Taylor, as the duo were the top offensive players for Peoria High and combined for 83 touchdowns as juniors.
“That’s my boy. He’s like another brother to me,” Hess said. “I see him every single day.”
How could Illinois replicate the success that Peoria has had?
“It all just starts with the coaches, the culture on the football team and the atmosphere," Hess said. "We have a good culture and a good base, and that’s why we’re successful."