You know that amazing couple weeks in late January when football recruiting really heats up and things get hectic right before the faxes start rolling in? Well, the brand new early signing period has thrown a wrench into that mid-winter rush and moved it just before the holidays. While most are worried about picking up a present for Mom, Dad and Aunt Tilly, promising athletes are figuring out where they should “take their talents”.
Because of this shift, you can see Lovie Smith and Co. adjusting its recruiting strategy before our eyes with a few goals, and all you need is a Twitter account to see how it’s unfolding fast and furious.
1. Get the committed blue-chip prospects to sign because you don’t want marquee programs to double-down their efforts after losing Plan-A recruits.
Case and Point(s): Calvin Avery, Khalan Tolson, Kievan Myer, Verdis Brown (not committed, but belongs in this group).
These four guys are all huge additions to the program, the type of freshmen Illinois played early, and developed throughout the year. Stacking these types of kids on top of the standout 2017 class is exactly what Illinois imagines will lift the program. The worry is that a school like Alabama or Clemson misses on its favorite prospects, and then scrolls down the list to a kid committed to Illinois and thinks “easy-pickens”.
This is why Urban Meyer was opposed to the early signing period — it takes away the blue-blood vulture ability when the 5-stars start popping elsewhere.
2. Apply maximum pressure to uncommitted prospects that have been waiting for a bigger offer, and get them in the fold.
Case and Point(s): Reuben Unije, Dallas Craddieth, Dayton Coleman, Ayodele Adeoye, Zach Petersen.
These five guys are the Bobby Roundtree/Bennett Williams-style signing day steals from last year that are so imperative for Illinois. You don’t have to land every one, but you need to grab a few. This group is the one to watch out for with emerging names and movement, because eventually these kids either “Luke Ford” you out of the picture and express no further interest, or you break through and the love shown wins out with a signing day pledge. A lot of kids are on the cusp of blowing up with the huge offers they’ve imagined, but alas, USC can only take so many kids per class.
3. Figure out which “tape” prospects are worth closing on, and which need further evaluation into the new year.
Case and Points(s): New commit Delano Ware, Edwin Carter, Terin Adams.
Other schools have started to figure it out. Illinois and James Kirkland are good at scouting high school prospects, and they’ve started to vulture the work. Zach Petersen, listed above, is the latest example of a kid without offers suddenly getting a bag when Illinois pulls the trigger and the interest goes public. For this reason, this is the hardest group to get a handle on. If they’ve really got a stud in the wings — Isaiah Gay, for example — we won’t know until the fax comes through and the ink is dry. This is an advantage that a perennial Big Ten bottom feeder must have.