CHAMPAIGN — Maybe someday the event will be packed. Standing room only in the Assembly Hall. Lines out to First Street.
The first Illinois Signing Day celebration was more on the quaint side. Hundreds came through the west doors of the Assembly Hall, shaking hands, getting autographs and taking pictures with new coach Tim Beckman and his staff.
The hourlong meet-and-greet included all of the assistant coaches and a handful of returning players. Terry Hawthorne, who helped Illinois win the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with a pick six, arrived wearing his St. Louis Cardinals backpack. He quickly changed into his No. 1 jersey and started chatting and signing.
Plenty of fans sought out Luke Butkus, a star player at the school and now a part of Beckman's first Illinois staff. Butkus doesn't look much different than the guy who played center on a Big Ten championship team. Close-cropped hair and the instantly recognizable Butkus mug.
Beckman has made it pretty clear: His players and coaches will be out in the community. Talking to kids in schools. Speaking at luncheons. Ingratiating themselves into the lives of their fans.
The Signing Day special will be part of Beckman's program every year.
He held similar events in his three seasons at Toledo. The first year, the crowd wouldn't have filled one section of the Assembly Hall. But it grew each time, which is what Beckman expects to happen at Illinois.
"It's something that I believe in," Beckman said.
After meeting with fans in the Assembly Hall entryway, Beckman took to the temporary stage. Set up on the west side of the court, it seemed suited for a political campaign speech.
Beckman knew his audience, starting with the familiar.
"I-L-L," he yelled.
A weakened "I-N-I" came back at him.
"C'mon, we can do better than that," Beckman said, starting the chant again. The response was louder, more to Beckman's liking.
Beckman then introduced his assistants, who in turn introduced the 19 players who are members of the 2012 recruiting class.
It was the cap of a frantic eight weeks for Beckman, who was hired Dec. 9 as Ron Zook's replacement. He put together his staff while continuing to add to the class assembled by the previous regime.
Not everybody made it. Joey Warburg, a Louisville, Ky., offensive lineman, switched to Purdue.
"Joey came on a visit," Beckman said. "I said to all of our (committed) players, 'Don't take another visit.' Joey wanted to look at a couple more. At that time, he knew that we were going to offer others."
Elliot Faerber, a receiver from Shawnee Mission, Kan., also fell off the list. Illinois missed on Edwardsville defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, who picked Nebraska on Wednesday after giving strong consideration to Beckman's program.
The class is ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten by national recruiting services Rivals.com and Scout.com. You won't hear the recruiting numbers from Beckman.
"This group will be determined on how well they perform actually two, three, four years from now," Beckman said.
"There have been numerous football players I have coached throughout my years who have won Heismans and won Butkus Awards who were rated two stars."
He pointed to a class that had seven players compete for state titles in 2011 (winning four). A class with 14 players with a grade-point average at 3.0 or above, two at 4.0. A class with an average of eight playoff games per recruit.
"We believe they fit exactly what we're looking for in an Illini football player," Beckman said. "As a student and as an athlete. You'll see winners."
The class isn't closed, Beckman said. He has three scholarships available, which he will consider using.
"It's about fits," Beckman said.
There isn't a quarterback in the recruiting class. But former walk-on Chase Haslett is going on scholarship, giving Illinois four scholarship quarterbacks. Haslett joins returning starter Nathan Scheelhaase, freshman Reilly O'Toole and sophomore Miles Osei.
In the future, Beckman said, he will want to have at least four scholarship quarterbacks. Five is fine with him, too.
Of the 19 signees, 13 were from within a five-hour radius of Champaign-Urbana. There are six from Ohio and five each from Illinois and Florida.
Beckman said Chicago Mount Carmel defensive lineman Vontrell Williams had a major impact on the class, serving as a recruiter after giving a recommitment to Beckman.
"I've known Vontrell for quite some time," Beckman said. "We put this recruiting class kind of in Vontrell's hands. We said, 'Hey, you want to be known your senior year and known to be a champion? We need your help.' Vontrell Williams did an excellent job of reaching out and being involved in the recruiting process."
Williams and the other incoming players will be involved in recruiting the Class of 2013. Beckman said Illinois already has made offers to players in the current junior class.
"Oh, definitely," Beckman said.
Twenty-six players were on campus for an earlier Junior Day. Beckman will have juniors on campus at events this weekend and during spring practices.
"We want to get them here and get them to meet our coaching staff," Beckman said. "Our coaching staff's exciting, they're young, they're energetic."
Better luck next year?
This isn’t the year Tim Beckman and his staff should be judged. Reserve that for the next cycle, when there’s a solid crop of in-state talent and they aren’t playing catch-up. With that in mind, here are five juniors who would go a long way toward making the 2013 class special, courtesy IlliniHQ.com recruiting blogger CODY WESTERLUND:
Ty Isaac, RB, Joliet Catholic
A product of a powerhouse program, Isaac has everything you want in a feature back: size, speed, agility and tremendous vision. He also has a bevy of suitors. USC was reportedly the latest to offer, and Isaac can add that to a list that includes Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Logan Tuley-Tillman, OT, Peoria Manual
“There’s not a lot of kids like him” — that was Manual coach Dan Fauser’s description of the 6-foot-7, 280-pound beast who already has picked up offers from Florida State, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Michigan, among others. The competition will be tough for Beckman & Co., but hailing from central Illinois and having recently visited Champaign, Tuley-Tillman already is giving Illinois a hard look.
Ethan Pocic, OT, Lemont
Talent isn’t the only reason he’s on this list. Pocic also has the bloodlines, as older brother Graham is the Illini’s starting center. Illinois would be well served to secure a commitment from the younger Pocic as well; some believe he’s further along than his brother at the same age, and he already has an offer list that includes Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Aaron Bailey, QB, Bolingbrook
After not taking a signal-caller in this year’s class, Illinois will need one in 2013. Bailey is regarded as one of the top two in-state quarterbacks, and he seems more attainable than Maine East position-mate Matt Alviti. Bailey is a better runner than passer right now, but with improvement, he could be a great fit in a spread offense.
Laquan Treadwell, WR,
If Illinois wants its spread offense to truly be dangerous in the coming years, it needs more playmakers on the perimeter. Treadwell would qualify. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder already has offers from the likes of Michigan and Nebraska, and his high school is just a short jaunt up Interstate 57. That’s the prime Illini Nation territory Beckman loves to speak of.