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Does Illinois Football need to recruit in-state?

A look into how recruiting has gone for the home team in Illinois.


Some people will just never give you a chance.

Take this guy, for instance.

This is the father of a recruit named Marcus Washington. A very talented wide receiver from the St. Louis area, Washington has his pick of where he wants to go.

His former head coach, Corey Patterson, is on the staff at Illinois. Patterson has made great in-roads at Trinity Catholic, convincing star quarterback Isaiah Williams and one of his primary targets, Bryce Childress, to hop on board.

However, he has definitely not convinced Washington or his father. They're not wrong to think the way they do either.

Recruiting this area for Illinois has been mostly uphill sledding. Players who grow up watching the Illini see all their flaws up close. They know exactly what they are getting into here.

It's not to say they're pulling the wool over out-of-state recruits’ eyes, or anything like that. It's just that kids from Illinois and the surrounding area get oversaturated with all of the Illini's warts.

Historically, Illinois Football hasn't been a major player for the top recruits in the state of Illinois. Ray Eliot relied on whatever he could find, including walk-ons and in-state kids, such as Bill Burrell, a kid from Clifton, Illinois, who went on to become Big Ten MVP and finished fourth in Heisman voting in 1959. Mike White made his hay largely recruiting out-of-state players, including David Williams, the top wide receiver in school history, who went to high school at Juniperro Serra in California.

Ron Turner was somewhat of a mixed bag in-state. His star pupil at quarterback, Kurt Kittner, hailed from Schaumburg, Illinois. His top wide receiver Brandon Lloyd? Blue Springs, Missouri. Walter Young, Chicago. Eugene Wilson, Merrillville, Indiana. He did well at finding under-the-radar talent in-state, but failed miserably in the same regards out (if you believe Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler's account of things, which I want to do).

Skip to about 2:30 in the video if you want to hear Aaron Rodgers say he WANTED to play for Illinois. Ugh.

Ron Zook can sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. He did well in the Chicago Public League, nabbing another Isaiah "Juice" Williams from Chicago Vocational, Martez Wilson from Simeon, "Miami" Thomas from Morgan Park, and so on and so forth. Tim Beckman relied on connections in Ohio and Florida to bolster the talent level, with okay results.

Lovie more recently has tried to make Chicago and St. Louis a top priority. It's been a more receptive pitch down south, with Williams, Childress, Larry Boyd, and Tony Adams all saying yes to Illinois. He's missed out on a lot up north, though, and it has somewhat hampered his first three classes. He's done better, again, out of state.

And that's really the crux of the issue here. Does recruiting Illinois successfully — both north and south — really help the Illini win? That's debatable. For every success story (Juice, Simeon Rice, Dana Howard, Burrell, Dick Butkus), there are plenty of instances where in-state kids haven't always lived up to expectations (Thomas due to injuries, Gabe Megginson, Aaron Bailey transfer, Lendell Buckner).

Again, Illinois has done well for themselves staying out of state, most notably over the last 10 years or so. And again, that is due to in-state players seeing a lot of bad football being played in Champaign. When you have success, players follow. White, Makovic, Turner, Zook, and even Beckman had their best recruiting cycles after they had a winning or bowl season.

If Lovie truly wants to recruit the state better, he has to win. That's really all it will take. He's probably going to win with a lot of out-of-state players, though.

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