Work is done (mostly), now Zook & Co. wait and see
CHAMPAIGN — While the Illinois players were resting their bodies and minds last week, the coaches were jumping on airplanes and into their cars. For points near and far. To find recruits.
And the farther they got away from home, the less they heard about the team's three-game losing streak.
"You get outside of this town and everyone thinks you're having a great year," Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. "People were real positive. I was down in Florida and it was a real good reception."
Illinois has 10 commitments for the class of 2012. The latest to pick the school is Ryan Frain, a kicker from Indianapolis. Illinois is losing senior kicker Derek Dimke. The coaches can't comment on the recruits until the players sign in February.
The current Illinois class is ranked 72nd nationally and last in the Big Ten according to Scout.com. Rivals.com ranks the Illinois class 11th in the Big Ten, ahead of Minnesota.
Illinois coach Ron Zook said to check back on the class closer to signing date.
"That list (now) means nothing," Zook said. "I think in our situation, we've just got to make sure that first Wednesday of February, we've got a group of guys in here that are going to be what the Illini Nation wants and are going to help this football program."
In recent years, Zook and his staff have been able to land a top recruit late. Justin Green and Jon Davis made last-minute decisions to sign with Illinois.
"A lot of times, you get your best players late," Petrino said.
Early commitments are more common in the Big Ten than in the SEC, Petrino said.
"When we were down in the South, or even at Louisville, we got a lot of kids in the last two weeks of recruiting," Petrino said. "The real good ones aren't going to commit early, so you've got to keep fighting."
With the pending loss of seniors Jason Ford and Troy Pollard, running back is a need area. The team has just two other scholarship tailbacks: freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson.
Illinois is interested in a handful of players ranked among the nation's Top 100 tailback recruits, including in-state prospects David Smith (Bremen) and Tevin Coleman (Oak Forest).
Zook listed running backs, defensive backs and defensive linemen as the three top priorities for the 2012 class.
"You want to get all the good players you can get," Zook said.