Pry Excells As Coach And Recruiter

One of the reasons for Illinois' success in football has been the great staff assembled by head coach Ron Zook. A good example of this Jim Pry, who is developing some excellent slot receivers and tight ends while doing a bangup job recruiting the state of Pennsylvania.

Pry is pleased to see Arrelious Benn back out practicing with the slot receivers after enduring shoulder surgery in January.

"Exactly, that was a step in the right direction. He was biting at the bit to get out here. Just running routes, not even throwing the ball to him, it makes him feel a lot better. We know what he's about. We don't need to see him in spring ball."

In Benn's absence, Brian Gamble, Marquis Wilkins and walkon Alex Reavy are seeing time in the slot. They are improving as they get more practice reps. And he'll add athletic freshman Jack Ramsey to the mix in the fall.

Another of his developing receivers is tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. Pry is encouraged by his progress this spring and thinks Michael is making himself a viable option in the passing game.

"His pass route running has gotten a lot better here in the spring. He's working hard on his footwork when it comes to blocking. And that's giving him confidence. And he's played a lot of football games, and that brings a lot of confidence with you.

"He knows what it's about now. He was a young guy last year, so he's using his body and bouncing off linebackers, getting himself open. He's a physical receiver."

Hoomanawanui and walkon letterman Tom Sullivan are the only tight ends on the roster, so they get tons of reps. This is good in one respect, but it can wear them down at times. Fortunately, Coach Pry has helped recruit two top tight ends who will add excellent depth this fall.

"For sure we need more depth at tight end. In the fall, we have two quality tight ends coming in. Hubie Graham is a big guy, he's strong, he can run fast. He's had a lot of opportunities to go a lot of places, and we're happy to have him. London Davis too. He's an athletic guy who can do a lot of things."

Pry recruited Graham out of eastern Pennsylvania, along with offensive linemen Tyler Sands and Corey Lewis. All are considered outstanding prospects who want to make the long trek to Illinois for their college homes. How does he recruit so well in Pennsylvania?

"That's a secret," joked Pry. "No, I'm from Pennsylvania originally, and I've recruited Pennsylvania for 26 years. I know most of the coaches, and I'm good friends with a lot of them. I have to say they helped us out a lot over there. And then when we got one committed, he started calling other ones.

"This is what I tell a Pennsylvania kid when I call, 'just come visit and you'll see what everyone else sees...the place, the people are good, up and coming program.' And that's what they want, a chance to play in a program that's going to be high profile."

Jim Pry recruits southern Illinois and all of Pennsylvania. The latter is a big state that entails considerable travel.

"Western Pennsylvania's loaded every year. I would say around 15 1-A players. In eastern Pennsylvania probably 7. Somewhere in the middle is another 4-5. You've got to go see all those guys, you know."

One of Coach Pry's recruits is incoming freshman Corey Lewis from East Stroudsburg South high school. The 6'-6", 278 pound left tackle was heavily recruited but turned down Penn State, Virginia and others without visiting the Illinois campus due to a full basketball schedule. How did the Illini accomplish this major recruiting coup without benefit of a visit?

"Very honestly, our website is pretty nice. His mom, dad and him spent a lot of time looking at the facilities. They clicked on every coach and heard them on the website. They heard coach Zook, and of course hearing him on the phone calling them, and he trusted us.

"That's what it came down to, he trusted us. Coach Zook believes this is home away from home, and we make it that way. It's a warm place. You come here, you're going to feel pretty good."

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