“Finally we’ve been here for a year-and-a-half now where we feel we’ve got a great grasp on this state.”
RANTOUL — An early signing period for football would bring added relief to Alex Golesh’s life.
But since Feb. 5, 2014, is the first day high school players can sign letters of intent, the Illinois recruiting coordinator has more than five months left before the Class of 2014 is complete.
And with 12 commits so far in what should turn into a relatively small class with perhaps 16 or 17 signees, one might think the 29-year-old Golesh can turn his attention to tight ends and specialists, two position groups he coaches. Quite the contrary.
“Recruiting this fall is going to be keeping the guys we’ve got, really evaluating maybe one or two other junior college kids that we need to bring in and then two or three other high school guys,” Golesh said. “Hone in on those and really put all our efforts into those guys.”
Having three junior college players commit so far means a little less waiting around since they can sign their letters of intent in mid-December.
With a small senior class of 15 players, don’t anticipate the Class of 2014 to double in number between now and February.
“That’s the big advantage of having a small class is you can really get ahead a year,” Golesh said. “Finally we’ve been here for a year-and-a-half now where we feel we’ve got a great grasp on this state.”
Making sure the decommitments don’t happen in bunches like they did last year is another priority. Players like Reon Dawson (Michigan), Joshua Jones (North Carolina State), Kenton Gibbs (North Carolina State), Evan Panfil (Purdue) and others all initially picked Illinois before selecting other schools. Reggie Spearman of Chicago Simeon made a big splash last year during Camp Rantoul when the linebacker chose Illinois, only to flip to Iowa shortly before signing day, a move that didn’t surprise many.
“The one thing we learned, to be honest with you, is to hold on to those next guys and have a constant evaluation of guys that are committed elsewhere that are still interested and keep a really, really good pecking order of who’s next,” Golesh said. “I think we did a good job last year. I think we can do an even better job of knowing, ‘All right, we’re taking one at this spot. If he de-commits, this is our next move,’ just like you would offensively and defensively (with players).”
Golesh and other assistants on Tim Beckman’s staff can’t start hitting the road until Sept. 1. Having two bye weeks during the year is an aspect Golesh wants to take advantage of this fall, particularly at the junior college level. Beckman has not shied away from trying to entice juco players onto campus, signing five last winter. He could have eight in an Illinois uniform next year at this time. Maybe more.
Getting a head start on the Class of 2015 recruits, this year’s juniors in high school, is another focus.
“We’ve had a bunch of those guys on campus,” Golesh said. “Now we’ve got to get them to games, win some games, which will definitely help, and keep recruiting those young kids.”
Evaluating talent is an area the Illinois staff takes the most pride in. And then landing the players other schools may have overlooked early on in the recruiting process is what Golesh is banking on when it comes to helping turn the program around.
“The biggest thing is trusting our evaluations, trusting Coach Beckman’s final say on it and move forward with it,” Golesh said. “We’ve really stressed that we don’t care who’s offered these kids. Really, what I’ve stressed, is if we want them, and they fit what we want academically, let’s be their first offer. Let’s not be nervous about being the first offer. I feel like we’ve done that.”
— Matt Daniels