Zook Upbeat As Signing Date Approaches

After a difficult season on the field, the Fighting Illini football team was predicted to have a poor recruiting class for next Wednesday's signing day. But head coach Ron Zook feels rejuvenated, and he and his newly-refurbished staff are putting together a much better class than most had a right to expect. He spoke about recruiting and the new momentum of the team.

Illinois football coach Ron Zook has hired five new coaches with one more on the way. Instead of these changes being evidence of major problems within the program, the new coaches have been a breath of fresh air for Zook and the program.

"They're great recruiters and great coaches," brags Zook. "The players are excited. There's a new enthusiasm. Everyone has a new sense of what direction we're going."

It helps that these new coaches didn't endure the frustration of the 2009 season and insist the past be forgotten so a new wave of success can replace it.

"That's part of it. But in this profession you're gonna have a lot of ups and downs. Look at Florida State, look at Michigan. Teams go in cycles."

The Illini have lost some talented prospects this recruiting season, but they have added some good ones recently. The most difficult problem to overcome according to Zook is the media and the negativity they describe around the program. Other schools tell prospects Zook and his staff won't be here long in an attempt to scare them from committing.

Despite this, Zook is really upbeat about the class he expects to sign Wednesday.

"Our players have done a great job. This is gonna be a heck of a year, it really is. I don't have enough scholarships right now. We're in a position of having to decide, which is a good situation to be in. It allows you to evaluate academics and get involved in a lot of different things."

There may not be any 5-star athletes this class. But Zook has many veterans returning, allowing the newcomers to progress at their own rate.

"It's different that where we've been in the past from the standpoint we don't need a bunch of guys to be ready to play as freshmen. These last two years have been the best recruiting years we've ever had."

Three recruits are already on campus. Chandler Whitmer, Trulon Henry and Shawn Afryl are enrolled and working out with their Illini teammates. Zook was asked about Whitmer and the quarterback situation.

"I haven't had a chance to actually see him play. But he's a very mature kid, he's excited about it. That's one of the exciting things about the position. You've got Jacob Charest, who's had some experience. You've got two freshmen who are talented. And we have another one coming in we're excited about. And you've still got Eddie (McGee, who has moved to receiver). I feel good about that position for sure."

Henry is a junior college transfer and Arrelious "Rejus" Benn's older brother. Henry had a brush with the law, but Zook is convinced he is a better man for the experience.

"He's a mature guy. When you get to know him and know what he's about, you can't help but love him. He made a mistake, he'll be the first to tell you. He's learned from it, he's paid for it. He'll give us a lot of mature leadership in the locker room. That's big, it really is.

"He's a safety, a guy you can play in the box also. I'm not saying he's like Rejus, but he's an athletic guy, a big physical guy."

How many players does Zook hope to sign?

"I don't talk about numbers, but we're gonna have more than everybody thinks."

If the Illini can continue the recruiting momentum through next Wednesday, after all the turmoil of the last year, Zook and Illini Nation will have reason to cheer.

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