Illinois coach Ron Zook talks about his "Friends and Family" approach to recruiting, and there was no better example of it than at the 7 on 7 and lineman camps that took place on the UI campus in late June. Illini players were out in force to watch prospects work out at the camps. So were quarterback commitment Chandler Whitmer and his parents.
Whitmer and fellow quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase supported top players like tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and receiver Kyle Prater during their games and visited with them in their free time. Simultaneously, Whitmer's mom and dad befriended parents of prospective recruits.
"We're just trying to make them feel at home there," Whitmer explains. "That's just how we do it. They enjoy doing that, and I enjoy talking to these guys. It's just a big fun family atmosphere, and we enjoy ourselves."
There was an electricity running through the camps that Saturday, a special energy for a special day. Chicago Brother Rice offensive lineman Andy Gallik noticed it, and it helped push his desire to commit to Illinois over the top. Another top player who may have been influenced by the friendly atmosphere was superstar Johnsburg tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
"After the 7 on 7, me and C.J., his parents and my parents went out to eat afterwards," Whitmer relates. "We're becoming good friends. I text C.J. every day or every other day, just talking about how we've been doing."
Whitmer knows his quarterbacking will be enhanced if he has a 6'-7" tight end with excellent athleticism and great hands on his side.
"He's an elite level player. For his size, the way he runs his routes and goes up and gets the ball, it's pretty tremendous. He's a special talent, and I hope he joins us at Illinois."
Whitmer doesn't want to take any personal credit for helping the Illini fill out their upcoming recruiting class. But he understands he is contributing to an atmosphere that influenced his college decision.
"Definitely. That's one of the things that brought me there, the way Coach Zook was doing it. He's got that type of thing where you just feel like you're at home. I think that's really something special.
"A lot of players look for that because in this process it's hard to know where the right place really is. People are pulling you this way and that way, and when you get that feeling it's just special. I think that's what makes Coach Zook as good a recruiter as he is."
Proviso West superstar receiver Kyle Prater is another athlete who has developed a relationship with Whitmer. Due to the large number of schools seeking his services, he is a good example of someone who is being pulled in too many directions too often. It has become difficult for him to field all the daily phone calls he receives.
"At first, I bet he was loving it," Whitmer surmises. "But now he tells me sometimes it's just getting overwhelming. That's part of recruiting, having too little or too much of that. I got lucky and was right in between and was able to make my decision on my own.
"But with him, that's tough. I'd just rather be a friend for him, to be here for him. If he ever wants to talk about anything or hang out, I won't pull him either way. Sometimes, that relieves the stress for them. But it's tough. I've done everything I can. I feel strong about Illinois, and he knows about it.
"He sometimes doesn't text me back. He's going to summer school as well, and he's trying to work out. And on top of that, trying to figure out where you need to go to school. He's got a lot on his plate right now, and sometimes I think he just shuts off the phone for a little bit."
Whitmer has concluded a tour of camps and combines, with one possible exception. He has enhanced his reputation by performing well in these camps, but now it's time to concentrate on preparing for the upcoming high school season for Downers Grove South.
"Camp wise, I'm pretty much done. I'm just working out, working at our team camp. Hopefully, I can make the Elite 11 out in California. They're gonna announce all the invitees July 15th, so that's when we'll find out for sure."
Whitmer is a winner, and he is attracting his like kind to Illinois. He and his parents want him to be part of a great recruiting class, and they are working hard to manifest that reality. They are a great addition to Coach Zook's family.