There was some excellent play on the turf inside the Irwin facility as the Illini are beginning to get back into football shape. But while the football team went through its paces, Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Bobbi Duvall, her assistant Cathy Ludwig and a number of Volunteer Illini Recruiters escorted some handsome recruits and their families.
Among the recruits in attendance were offensive linemen Graham Pocic from Lemont; Chicago's Jeff Allen; Edwardsville's David Young; Ryan Sedlacek from Westport, Connecticut; and Tyler Sands from Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Other Illinoisans included Chicago receiver/athlete Jack Ramsey and his linebacker teammate Nate Palmer, Chicago Mt. Carmel defensive end Glenn Foster, and Cahokia tight end London Davis. All but Young and Davis have already committed to Illinois.
Also present were standout running back Jamie Harper from Jacksonville, Florida; 6'-4" DeMatha (Maryland) receiver Kenny Tate; 6'-6" quarterback/athlete Matt Roark from Kennesaw, Georgia; cornerback commitment Ashante Williams from Mayfield, Ohio; and safety Okechuckwu Okoroha out of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, the same school that sent Will Davis and Travon Bellamy to the Illini. By the end of the weekend, 18 prospects will have been on campus for official visits.
"It's a big weekend," understates Zook. "It'll be like last year. We've had a big banquet weekend the last two years, and they've been pretty successful for us. We've got a lot of guys coming in who have already committed, so it should be a great weekend."
Illinois' annual postseason football banquet takes place Saturday evening, and the recruits will be on hand to see some special Illini receive awards for their outstanding play. The enthusiasm associated with Illinois' first trip to the Rose Bowl in 24 years will likely have a positive impact on the impressionable high schoolers.
Coach Zook acknowledges there are some recruiting advantages to having a winning season.
"Winning helps recruiting a lot. Obviously, we were on TV a lot. A lot of positive things have happened in the national media spotlight."
However, many in this particular recruiting class were impressed with the Illini prior to the season.
"We've got a few new guys, but for the majority of guys we've been on all this has done for them is solidified how they felt about us. I don't know if there's been anybody who's jumped back on."
Coach Zook has done a masterful recruiting job the last two years when the Illini weren't winning, so it has to help to return to the national spotlight.
"Winning is important. I think you have to win. I'm sure there are some guys that have had their eye on us who are saying 'gosh, this looks like a fun thing.' We were fortunate to get some pretty good players here when we weren't winning. But there's more to it than wins and losses because everyone has lost at some point or another."
So what is the secret to your recruiting success?
"Guys have an idea about what direction we're going, and if they've been around our guys at all, they get the feeling we have good people. The staff's done a great job. It's the whole package. That's something we've strived for, laid the groundwork for."
Recruiting starts much earlier for players than in the past. High school juniors are beginning to get scholarship offers already, so many of the best ones have a good idea about their top schools before their senior seasons. The Rose Bowl success will be a bigger help for next year's recruiting class than the one that will sign on the dotted line in February.
"In recruiting, you're always going to be a year behind. It's catching up a little bit. Also, the things we've said we were going to do, things that were going to happen have happened. We haven't overstepped our boundaries. We've been clear on where we were going to go, and it's kind of worked out for us."
What seems to excite Coach Zook the most is that he believes Illinois has not yet reached its full potential. The best is yet to come.
"This is still not a program that is where it needs to be. We've been very fortunate, we've made a lot of progress, but the great thing is if you look at our team, if we continue to do the things we've been doing, we should continue to improve."
Big Weekend For Zook and Illini
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