All I can ask, is please read to the end, and don’t hate me for the first 300-ish words of this article…
The biggest question for any new face in the top of any University of Illinois coach, without a doubt, is this;
Can they tackle the massive challenge of keeping key, in-state recruits home, earning their commitments to the University of Illinois?
So far, for Lovie Smith and Co., ide from a few in-state talents inking their names in orange and blue with the class of 2018, the well of the Illinois football scene has continued to run dry in the top-dog category for the newest Illini coach.
The 2018 Illini class saw a gradual increase in in-state recruiting when Lovie and his assistants gained the inked commitments of in-state prospects like top-tier Peoria QB and 3-star, dual-threat quarterback Coran Taylor. They also received the signatures of other promising in-state players like Belleville’s Jordyn Slaughter, and Danville’s Julian Pearl and Caleb Griffin.
It should also be noted that the team gained community college transfer Dominic Stampley, a wide receiver who originally attended Champaign Centennial High School. Stampley, who many think will serve as a great reinforcement to a young receiving class, will without a doubt be one of the more interesting fresh-faced Illini to take the field at Memorial Stadium this year.
This may look like a great recruiting class, which in fair respect to the recruits in this class, it definitely is. It is a huge step-up for Illini in-state recruiting, without a doubt. However, it is also worth noting how many in-state top-tier recruits the Illini have missed on.
Top in-state players like Luke Ford (now enrolled at Georgia), and others ranked in the top-tiers of Illinois high school football have often elected to pursue their career and education outside of the state. And even more recently, in-state four-star Jahleel Billingsley elected to take his talents to Alabama (which, admittedly, is quite a tough offer to turn down).
All this to say, though Illinois has taken a step forward in its in-state recruiting, the big fish still have managed to escape the line, sometimes even after taking the bait with them. The Illini managed to bring in just three top-50 Illinois players, with one being in the top-15, and none in the top ten.
That being said, it is obvious that all hope isn’t lost for recruiting in general, or even for in-state recruiting, for Lovie Smith and Illini fans everywhere.
The main thing to keep in mind for Illinois fans at this point, where the Illini staff may have missed on some in-state recruits, they filled their holes (and possibly even improved their recruiting status) in the form of fresh pipelines from states like Texas and Missouri.
Out of state success
In the 2019 class, the Illini have already received commitments from two incredibly promising, top-tier talents in the form of out-of-state recruits. Where they may be missing out on a few key, in-state recruits, they are making up the slack in picking up players from other states.
Missouri is becoming a new area of focus for the Illini staff. Trinity Catholic High School in St. Louis Missouri, a powerhouse of high school football where Assistant Coach Corey Patterson was the head coach until just last year when he signed on with the Illini. Patterson managed to gnab the commitments of some of his former school’s best players in the 2019 class, including premier athlete/quarterback Isaiah Williams.
The other, equally-large recruiting steal for the Illini came out of Lovie Smith’s home-state of
Texas, where they grabbed the recruitment of dual-sport athlete and speedster Marquez Beason, from Bishop Dunne High School, arguably one of the biggest football schools in the country. Beason is rated as one of the top athletes in the class of 2019, and is known as a dedicated, hard-working corner, and a receiver with great off the line speed and catching ability.
This commitment, arguably was set into motion by the commitment of another Bishop Dunne player Calvin Avery, when the Illini won the signature of the class of 2018, 4-star Defensive Tackle over many other powerhouse schools.
Another key state for the Illini staff in terms of recruiting over the past few years has been the sunshine state of Florida, from which the Illini have recruited talents like 4-star OL/DT Verdis Brown, and 6’5”, 303 lb. OL Reuben Unije. Both highly-touted recruits attended IMG academy in Bradenton, Florida.
In the 2018 class, 21 out of the Illini’s 26 recruits came from out of state, including three of their four highest rated recruits. So far in the 2019 recruiting process, the two “headliners” of the Illini recruiting class both come from out of state. That being said, the Illini have managed to gain the signatures of in-state talents like top-25 recruits in the state of Illinois in Fabian McCray and Joseph Thompson, and top 50 in-state talents like Nick Fedanzo and Griffin Moore.
Both McCray and Thompson met huge approval from Illinois fans, and shows signs that Lovie Smith and company are creeping their way into panting roots in the recruiting-wild-lands that are Chicago and the surrounding areas.
Even though Illinois may have appeared to struggle due to their missing out on some key in-state prospects, due to their untiring efforts of recruiting out of state players, the Illini have landed some key pieces that will see large amounts of play-time, and productive play-time at that, going into the next few seasons.
One only needs to look at the recruiting steals of Calvin Avery, Verdis Brown, Marquez Beason, Isaiah Williams, and so many others from outside of the state lines to see that where Illinois has suffered in the treacherous depths of in-state recruiting other than the key additions they have had, they’ve really excelled with their out of state grabs, establishing pipelines that will last through the years to come.
Sure enough, even before the wins have started to pile in for Lovie Smith, the Illini have begun to make a good track record for themselves when it comes to recruiting. Though they have missed out on some top in-state recruits, they have gathered a strong core of tough-minded, hard-working in-state players, to match up with the extreme talent coming in from out-of-state.
With more recruiting left to go for the 2019 season, and an upcoming 2018 football season in which many see Illinois taking some big steps of progress, the Illini staff will be looking to continue the upward trend of both in-state, and out of state recruiting.
The most important thing?
The Illini are making progress.
Nate Williamson is an editor and contributor for illiniscoops.com, as well as writer for Lastwordonprofootball.com, and co-founder and editor-in-chief for the Sports Guys Blog. You can find him on Twitter @NateJWSports, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.