Casey Ludwig Oversees Football Recruiting

Most college football fans love to talk recruiting. They realize games are often won by teams that draw the best talent to their schools. There is as much competition for recruits as there is for bowl bids and championships. For Illinois, all football recruiting goes through Casey Ludwig, the Associate Recruiting Coordinator. She is at the center of the storm.

Illinois assistant coach Reggie Mitchell is the recruiting coordinator at Illinois. But the day-by-day operations of the recruiting office are handled by Ludwig. Along with grad assistant Elizabeth Gehrt and a group of students, Ludwig works tirelessly to handle all the details associated with recruiting quality classes to the UI.

The Illinois Business Administration graduate from Armstong High School didn't always plan for a career in football recruiting.

"My high school actually didn't have football until my 8th grade year, so I wasn't very much into football," Ludwig explains. "I just kind of took a liking to it. My cousin Amy was in charge of our former VIR (Volunteer Illini Recruiter) program. I thought it seemed neat, so when I got to the UI, I contacted her and asked if she could put a good word in for me. If it weren't for Amy, I wouldn't have had an opportunity to get involved."

The rest, as they say, is history.

"I liked all the action and being around all the coaches. I liked seeing the inside work of what actually goes on in the football program."

She is definitely on the inside now. Her work load parallels that of the Illini coaches.

"That's part of it. It's one of those things you do because you love to do it. Right now, I'm only working 40 hours a week, give or take a few hours on Saturday and Sunday. That goes for four to five weeks.

"During the season, it's probably about 70-80 hours a week, depending on what we have going on. Like whether it's a home game or away game, whether we have an official visit in town. That probably goes on through official visit season.

"During official visits, I'm working 6:00am to 2:00am Friday and Saturday, and then depending on what time kids leave on Sunday until 6:00pm or 7:00pm. And then we do coaches' arrangements. So just in those three days, I probably work 30-40 hours. But it's very seasonal."

Ludwig looks forward to the few down times.

"We have about a month after the signing day that's pretty low key. It starts to pick up again with spring ball. Right now, we're in a fairly reserved time. June will be busy with summer camps, and then July is really slow, which is nice. That's kind of the calm before the storm in August."

The NCAA allows schools to begin corresponding with high school players September of their junior year of high school.

"In September, you're recruiting the top juniors you know about. Maybe they were recommended as sophomores. But you're narrowing down your seniors as well. So you're recruiting two different groups of people at that time. That kind of continues until signing day. And then after signing day, you turn your attention solely to juniors."

Signing day is in early February for seniors, so the junior list begins to expand after that.

"The list increases rapidly as you get all your recruiting service material. February, March up to the summer, it's solely used for evaluations.

Ludwig says they may be dealing with as many as 5000 juniors around the country before they begin to concentrate on a select few.

"You're always adding, and you're always taking off. We start with that many. Although we can recruit the whole country, we tend to focus on certain areas where we've had success and have connections.

"We tend to cut out the players we probably aren't going to get or don't have a chance to go see. That probably takes half of our list out right away. After that, talking with coaches about film evaluation and when they go on the road in the spring, that's when we really get to narrow the list down and focus on who we actually are going to be recruiting."

The NCAA places restrictions on when coaches can call juniors. The athletes can phone the coaches all they want, but the coaches can't call the players. There is a slight modification in mid April.

"After April 15, the coaches get one phone call, period. That goes until the end of May. It's just one phone call, not one a week. They can't contact them again until September."

Right now, coaches are scouring the countryside for players, visiting schools to talk with high school coaches and observing film of prospects. This is an important time for them, making contacts and developing relationships. Ludwig explains that coaches can attend practices and games, but they cannot speak to players directly during the May evaluation period.

"It's just evaluations, you can't have any contact with kids you're evaluating. So you talk to the coach and other school staff members about the prospect. You can talk to the kid if he calls you, as many times as you want. You can do email as many times as you want.

"After September 1st of their senior year, the coaches can call them once a week until the contact period starts. They can't have a regular contact period with the kid on his campus until around November or December."

Until the direct contact period, Ludwig and her assistants send out mailings and emails, keeping players current on what is happening at Illinois and helping them learn more about the University. She is reluctant to mention the number of mailings, but her reminder of Coach Zook's philosophy on recruiting is telling.

"Mailings are a small part of what we do. Like Coach Zook says, 'Recruiting is like shaving, you have to do it every day.' So there's work to do every single day."

The student group plays an important role as well, helping with mailings and serving as tour guides for visiting prospects.

"Our student assistant group right now is right at 35. They just help out with anything recruiting related that we need on unofficial visits and other things as needed."

Those unofficial visits can occur throughout the year. A number of athletes stopped by spring practices and scrimmages, and the Illini made them feel at home.

"We coordinate everything that goes on that day. We make sure the kids and their families and guests have an enjoyable time. It's different than official visits because the official visits are a lot more in depth. But with unofficial visits, it's usually a lot more kids."

Ludwig and her assistants were busy for the spring game as a number of prospects and last February's signees showed up for it. But the official visits require much more preparation and total focus for an entire weekend. They arrange travel and organize all the activities for the weekend, including meeting academic counselors and setting up campus and facility tours.

They also help out at times with making travel arrangements for the coaches when they go out to evaluate and recruit prospects.

"The secretary does it during the week, and I help after 5:00pm or on weekends."

There are many Illini fans who would love to have Ludwig's access to the coaches and the recruiting board during the year. But it takes a special person to do all the work required day in and day out. It is a great opportunity for the right person.

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