Florida Diamond In The Rough Visits Illinois

Last weekend, the Illini football team hosted a large contingent of recruits. Among them was an unheralded receiver out of Jacksonville, Florida, by the name of Ryan Lankford. Playing for a small school, the son of a former NFL football player went unnoticed by most schools.

Ryan Lankford, a wide receiver from the Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville, Florida, visited Illinois and enjoyed a weekend that included the annual football banquet.

"We got greeted at the hotel and met my recruiter Coach Disch," Lankford related. My dad had his own room, and I had my own room. My host was Tavon Wilson. He showed me a good time.

"At Illinois, it seemed like everybody was on your side. It seemed like everyone was there to help you out. The only way you wouldn't succeed is if you didn't do your part."

The recruiting process allows players to develop close relationships with their recruiters. Such is the case with Coach Disch.

"Coach Disch has been recruiting me since my junior year. It's a pretty good relationship. I can say that I trust him . He's one of the few recruiters that I trust all the way. He met my mom, and he seems like a good figure."

Illinois is Lankford's leader, but he does have handful of other offers.

"Illinois, Central Michigan, FAU, Tennessee State, Elon, and a couple of other schools have offered me. My offer for Illinois came last weekend. They see me as more of a receiver type and maybe a return man depending on their situation at the position next year, but mostly a receiver. I'll make a decision sometime after Christmas."

The 5'-11", 160 pound receiver has taken some visits in the past and has one more set up.

"I've been on a couple unofficial visits and junior days at FSU and UCF. Unofficially, I've been to FAU and South Carolina for both track and football. I also took an unofficial visit to Florida for track. Illinois was my first official visit.

"I have another official visit planned for Central Michigan, but their head coach was just hired at Cincinnati and the guy recruiting me isn't returning my calls. I'm not sure I'll be going up there now."

When Lankford makes his decision, he'll try not to let the rumors of Zook being on the heat seat affect it.

"It does impact it a little, but I try not to go somewhere because of the coach. I like to play football, and if I want to be an Illini, then I'll go there and be an Illini regardless of who the coach is. And coming from my school we don't really win much, so anything is going to be better than what I've been going through for four years."

Lankford hasn't met new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino yet, but the new offense should suit him well.

"I'm still learning about the new offensive coordinator. I talked to Coach Disch, and they said they were going to throw the ball more this year."

Paxon is known for its academics, but that has made Lankford work even harder to become a better football player.

"I think it's pushed me to work harder because I'm coming out of a school that's not known for anything except academics. So I have to do everything in my power to get my name out there. It's made me work harder than going to a school that gets looked at by default."

Speed and strength are the name of the game for Lankford at the wide receiver position.

"I would say my breakaway speed is the best part of my game (he runs a 4.48), but I also like my ability to go and get the ball when it's in the air instead of waiting for it to come down. I'm a wide receiver that is going to stretch the field.

"I want to get stronger, and of course you can always work on your hands and your route running. For me, it's mainly getting stronger and bigger."

Lankford's high school is independent and doesn't play in a district so his high school experience has been different than most.

"We're independent. Our AD would schedule teams for us and that's pretty much it. There's no playoff system for us. If we go undefeated, then that's it. Season's over, good job.

"My motivation without a playoff system is my love of the game. Being able to play something that I love is worth it. Of course, I'd like to win, but I love the game. I spent all four years at varsity. We ran the spread offense with a mobile quarterback and short, quick routes."

He runs track in the spring.

"Right now we're doing conditioning for spring track. I run the 100, do the long jump, and run the 4X100. This will be my third year running track. I've had some schools interested in me for track, but no scholarships."

Lankford grew up of a fan of Miami and has two favorite Hurricanes.

"I never got to see him play, but Michael Irvin. He's actually my godparent so I look up to him. Devin Hester is the other one. I try to return kicks and punts like he does."

Lankford uses an intellectual approach to kick returns.

"When the ball is kicked and I first see it in the air, I take my eyes off of it and look down to the field to check the speed of everyone that's coming my way. And then based on how high the ball went and how the ball is moving determines if I'll run up and catch it or fair catch it, and where I'm going to run. I'll already know where the defenders are so I catch it and just go."

Lankford has a goal for himself in college.

"It's not so much an amount of something, but I always want to play better than I played before. I want my numbers to go up. I don't want anything to stay the same or go down."

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