Zook Excited About Latest Recruiting Class

Fighting Illini football coach Ron Zook is excited about his newest recruiting class. There is quality throughout. While limited in available scholarships, Zook feels this 20 man class has as much talent as his highly rated class from last year. Adding this class to his others makes Zook confident the future of Illlinois football is bright.

Illinois coach Ron Zook met the media Wednesday afternoon after a hectic morning of receiving National Letter Of Intent faxes from his future Illini. His overview suggests that he got the men he wanted.

"We signed 20 people, which is probably where we thought we would be. We would have signed more if we had the scholarship numbers to do so.

"I said last year the class was as good as any I'd ever been around. More importantly, after the end of the season I felt it was the best class I'd been around. In my opinion, this class doesn't have the quantity but it has the quality and is just as good a class as the one we signed last year.

"You start stacking classes upon classes, and you get the program where you want it to be to compete in the Big 10 Conference."

Zook described his new recruiting class by position, starting with offensive linemen Andrew Carter, Hugh Thornton, Leon Hill and Jake Feldmeyer. They maintained firm commitments despite the departure of the position coach who recruited them.

"We would have liked to sign 5 offensive linemen, but we signed four guys who we feel are really good players. Sometimes when you have a coaching change you get worried because you have to pick up the slack.

"But Coach Joe (Gilbert) has done a great job there getting to know the players. And it says a lot about our players. These guys came in during the coaching changes, got around our players, and they felt the way you would want them to feel. So we feel very good about the offensive line.

"I think tight end Justin Lattimore is a guy we got out of Tampa who we're really excited about. The receivers are Steve Hull from Cincinnati and Terry Hawthorne. 'Black Cat' (Hawthorne) played out here in the state championship game, and we feel he has a chance to be a special player for us as well as Steve. You get those kind of guys who can make plays for you.

"Greg Fuller is the one true fullback we've signed since we've been here. He's gonna have an opportunity to play early. He's a big strong physical guy. And then backs Bud Golden out of Sycamore High School in Cincinnati and Justin Green out of Louisville, Kentucky, who we're really excited to have.

"The quarterback Nathan (Scheelhaase) has been with us since the summer. He's a great person, a great leader and comes from a great family.

"Nathan came out here, and I watched him do a verticle in 42 inches. He's a great athlete, he really is. He's from a great program. He's a guy you'll get excited about when you talk to him. He's about team, he's about all the right things.

"You always want to get a quarterback in every class, and I think he's got a chance to be a special person. There was a lot of reasons why he could have gone to another school. Reggie Mitchell did a great job with him. He actually was the first guy we went to see.

"So we feel very good about the offensive side of the football."

Zook was equally optimistic about the defensive recruits.

"Defensively, you start with the defensive linemen. You've got to have guys who can play up front. Lendale Buckner and Akeem Spence are two big, physical guys. I've seen Akeem Spence take 345 (pounds) from the floor and put it above his head. That's an awful lot of weight. And of course 'Buck' is a big physical guy.

"(defensive ends) Mike Buchanan and Tim Kynard are both physical guys that can run. We can't have too much speed there.

"Linebacker Aaron Gress (junior college transfer) is here right now and will be going through spring football. He's a guy that, the more we watched his tapes through the season, the more excited we got. He's smart, a good student, and he's already in there watching tape and picking up the system.

"Eric Watts is the linebacker out of Jacksonville. He's on the #1 rated basketball team in Florida. He's a very physical guy, a guy that reminds of those guys back in the early 1990's that Florida State used to have. Not big size wise, but they just flew to the ball and were very physical and explosive. I think Eric Watts is gonna be one of those type of guys.

"In the secondary, sleeper Walter Aikens is a guy not many people know about. He's a great basketball player, his father's his basketball coach. He's just a great athlete. He could possibly even do quarterback.

"Tommie Hopkins out of East St. Louis ran a 10.6 (100 meters). And Joelil Thrash out of Washington D. C. is gonna carry on the D. C. tradition. He's a lot like Tavon Wilson, and they're best friends."

Coach Zook was especially impressed by the ratio of signed scholarships and the total number of official visits.

"I would guess that, with the number of people we have brought in on official visits compared to the number of people we signed, we had fewer official visits than anyone in the country. We didn't bring in a lot of guys. This is the highest percentage of any place I've ever been. There's a reason for it. It's our players, what we have to offer, and our support people."

He also said they have no room for more scholarships at this time.

"We're busting at the seams right now. This should be the first year we'll have right at our 85 number."

Zook was asked if his wishes were fulfilled.

"Absolutely. The only thing we didn't have was enough scholarships. If you had told me last year we would sign this 20 guys, I would have taken it and run."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories