Illini's Best Recruiter Finding Ways To Help

Fighting Illini football assistants have been out on the road recruiting since the end of spring practice. Their best recruiter was again forced to remain home. Ron Zook and other head coaches find their options increasingly restricted by NCAA edict. But Zook is finding other ways of contributing to the Illini recruiting effort.

Illinois head coach Ron Zook met with media Thursday and discussed a number of subjects. Second semester is now over, and he is optimistic on the academic front.

"Everything's going well. The grades are starting to come in, and we're in good shape there. There's a couple that were a little bit on the border, but they seem to be doing okay."

It is still too early to know the ultimate status of defensive tackle Josh Brent, who has been taking classes at Parkland College to regain his eligibility for fall.

"I don't know anything on Josh yet. It'll be important what happened in the spring, and we all know it will be important what happens in the summer as well."

Zook is at his best when he is on the road evaluating talent and working his recruiting magic. Unfortunately, the NCAA has barred head coaches from traveling during the May evaluation period. And this year they eliminated talks at coaching clinics. How has Zook been occupying his time?

"The biggest thing is I've done a lot of emailing and speaking. You get one call, so I've made a lot of one-calls. I was talking to (Alabama) Coach (Nick) Saban this morning on the things they're doing. The biggest thing is you've got to stay up with what's going on."

Zook is known as an expert texter, but coaches are no longer allowed to contact recruits in that manner. He has found legal methods of filling that void thanks to technological advances.

"I think it's gonna continue to change. The kids are all on Facebook now. If they don't have Facebook, then they have email on their phone. So you have some pretty instant contact with them."

All schools are allowed to have seven assistants on the road at any one time. With his recruiting coordinator Greg Nord on the road, Zook has temporarily assumed those duties.

"I do. I talk to them all every day to make sure we are not too spread out. Probably one of the things with being a new staff, we probably spread ourselves out a little too thin in the beginning.

"So we've kind of pulled everything back in, making sure we're getting the things taken care of. I always say you start in Champaign and then go as far as you have to go to get them."

Camp season is around the corner. For two weeks in mid June, the Illini will hold a variety of camps for interested football players. Multi-day camps are not as popular as they once were.

"Everybody's camps are down. I talked to Mark Dantonio (Michigan State) the other night, and their camp attendance is down a little bit."

However, one-day camps are a different story. The Illini will have one-day evaluation camps at Edwardsville June 12, Maine South on June 13, and from June 14-18 and June 21-25 on the Illinois campus. They are a good way for prospective recruits to show college coaches their abilities.

"One-days are up. Kids can go to 8 or 9 different camps, or six one-day camps instead of going to a three-day camp at one place. That's what most of them are doing.

"A coach of the Cincinnati Bengals I talked to this morning is bringing his son over here. He wanted to make sure we were a school that was interested in him as well. They're making their plans on what places they want to go visit."

The economy is having a negative impact on some prospects as they can't afford long trips. And yet, Zook points out a paradox.

"You look at some of these Nike camps that are different places, and the kids are traveling great distances. So sometimes I'm not sure what drives it all. But the economy has got to have something to do with it."

Recruits are highly impacted by the overall perception of a program. A team that has been winning is often more attractive to them. Since the UI has had two straight losing seasons, rival recruiters are trying to scare off players the Illini want.

Zook realizes the problem, but he is determined to have a successful recruiting season regardless. He will fare better if his Illini can have a winning season this fall, but he is not giving up. Illinois still has much to offer.

"Everybody's gonna lose games. If it was just solely on your record, then I think a lot of people would be in trouble."

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