Turner gives recruits closeup view of practice
CHAMPAIGN – The basketball teams were out of town. The wrestlers and the volleyball players were gone, too.
So, what did Ron Turner use to entertain the 22 football recruits on campus?
Practice. For the first time since Turner took the job.
Qualifying for a bowl game means Turner can show the recruits how his team works. The players lined the inside of the bubble during Saturday's 90-minute session, the first in preparation for the Dec. 30 Micronpc.com Bowl.
"It's important," Turner said. "I think we have a great staff, communicate well with the players, great relationship with the players, and the players have a lot of respect for the coaches. We can talk all about that, but they (recruits) can actually come see it now."
With most of Turner's original Illinois staff still together, the practices get smoother each day. Coaches and players know what to expect.
Turner thinks the people and the style are appealing to recruits.
"I think they'll love the way we practice," Turner said. "We're not out here long compared to a lot of colleges. But, we get our work done. We're up-tempo, we're moving, always moving, getting things done and a lot of teaching going on."
Giving his future players an early look at practice will help when they return in the fall, Turner said.
"It's a lot different than high school," Turner said. "The intensity they see opens their eyes a little bit. They'll see that they can become better players because of it."
The first weekend of visits is filled with players at the top of the Illini wish list. Four of the players here already have made commitments to the Illinois program: Edwardsville linebacker Joe Bevis, Mount Carmel fullback Brad Haywood, Proviso East linebacker Jemari Perry and Jacksonville tailback Ken Rogers.
Turner said he expects a few more commitments this weekend.
"The next two weeks is when they will really start to come," Turner said.
The Illinois coaches don't want to rush the decisions. But they also would like to know.
"Most of the ids in here this weekend have visits next weekend and the weekend after that," Turner said. "Some of them will cancel and commit. Others will want to go take their trips and compare. I have no problem with that. I want them to come here because they want to come here. I want them to feel real good about it."
Right now, the Illini have 22 scholarships available. That number could go up if the school loses a player or two from the current roster.
The quality of recruits continues to improve, Turner said. It started with last year's class, ranked among the top 25 nationally and in the upper half of the Big Ten.
"Last year's was awfully good, not just the ones we got but the ones we brought in," Turner said. "This is the same thing this year. We're bringing in some very high quality players."
The Illini have a few positions they need to shore up. As always, Turner wants offensive and defensive linemen. And the linebackers are weakened by the loss of Danny Clark and Eric Guenther.
The Illinois players were supposed to be on the field Friday. But the bubble wasn't ready and the practice fields to the east of Memorial Stadium were too wet, so Turner canceled practice.
Saturday's practice was delayed about 45 minutes while the finishing touches were done on the bubble, which likely is in its final year of existence. The Illini move into a new indoor facility after the 2000 season.
"It's been great," Turner said of the aging bubble. "It's served its purpose, but it's time to get something better and have something permanent that we can go in anytime we want."
A nice vacation
Saturday's practice was the first football work for the players since the Nov. 20 game against Northwestern. The Illini had been running and lifting weights since finishing the regular season at 7-4.
"I think it was a much-needed break," Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner said. "Guys need to recover a little bit. I was real banged up."
Kittner hurt his throwing shoulder late in the season. Having six weeks between games doesn't bother him a bit.
"It's better," Kittner said. "I need to ease my way into it and not try to throw a 100-yard pass."
Illinois quarterback/receiver Walter Young, tailback Rocky Harvey and defensive end Shaheed Richardson weren't at Saturday's practice because of a class.
"They have a play they have to perform in," Turner said. "I wish we could have taped it."
TAKING A LOOK
Twenty-two potential Illinois recruits are on campus this weekend to check out Ron Turner's program. Here are the players:
Player, High School, Position
Ade Adeyamo, Chicago St. Rita, WR
Nana Agyeman, Lake Park, WR
Kevin Anderson, East St. Louis, DB
Patrick Babcock, Stillman Valley, OL
Joe Bevis, Edwardsville, LB/FB
Jamaal Clark, Riverview (Mo.) Gardens, WR
Mike Gawelek, Chillicothe, Ohio, LB
Brad Haywood, Mount Carmel, FB
Lamont Holden, Stevenson, DE
Patrick King, DeMatha (Md.), K/P
Bryan Koch, St. Charles (Mo.) HowellOL
Shante Lyons, St. Louis Cardinal Ritter, DB
Anthony McClellan, O'Fallon, TE
Jemari Perry, Proviso East, LB
Duke Preston, Mount Carmel, OL
Ken Rogers, Jacksonville, RB
Adrian Sezer, Vinton (La.), WR
Lee Sicinski, Joliet Catholic, LB
James Thomas, New Orleans DeLaSalle, RB
Kareem Timbers, Chicago Mount Carmel, DB
Joe Trosclair, Riverside, La., OL
Roman Ybarro, Vista, Calif., QB