CHAMPAIGN — The ham sandwich, red bag of Doritos’ nacho cheese chips and bottled water were part of Alex Golesh’s working lunch this past week.
The Illinois football recruiting coordinator was back in Champaign, back in his midsized office, which is the first one on the right upon entering the Illinois football coaches’ offices inside the northeast corner of Memorial Stadium.
But for the youthful, exuberant and straight-talking Golesh, his office isn’t just limited to the one he has in Champaign.
It’s in airport terminals.
High school practice fields.
High school classrooms.
Hotel rooms. Rental cars. His cellphone.
Consider Golesh’s itinerary May 16-24:
— Spent two days in Oklahoma evaluating prospects May 16-17
— Visited family in northwest Arkansas for a 36-hour window May 18-19
— Checked out tight ends in the area those two days
— Boarded a flight to Dallas the night of May 19
— Evaluated players May 20-21 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area
— Tornado warnings May 21 in the area put a kink in plans to check out some spring practices
— Woke before the sun rose May 22. Flew out of Dallas at 6:30 a.m. to Los Angeles International Airport
— Met Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy in Los Angeles the morning of May 22
— Visited several junior colleges in the area, watching prospects in workouts
— Took the red-eye from Los Angeles to Tampa Bay the night of May 22
— Arrived in Tampa, checked in on potential players and saw a high school spring game May 23
— Stopped by the airport in Tampa for a flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport the night of May 23
— Checked into his Baltimore-area hotel at 2 a.m. May 24 before spending the rest of the day recruiting in Baltimore, northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“May is an opportunity to go out and evaluate,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “With as fast as evaluations are going with us now, where you need to get on players in 2014, 2015 and even 2016, everybody is getting these kids looked at and getting evaluated earlier.”
Golesh’s trips in that eight-day span came after visits to the western and northwestern suburbs of Chicago along with stops in Ohio (Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati areas) and Kentucky, mainly around Louisville, earlier in May.
All Illinois assistant coaches have primary and secondary recruiting areas and then a third area. Most of the primary and secondary areas are within a six-hour radius of Champaign-Urbana. For some, like offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and outside linebackers coach Al Seamonson, their secondary area is Florida based on their ties to the state, while Bellamy’s secondary area is Atlanta. The staff spent the first part of May checking in to its recruiting areas, while the latter half of the month was spent focusing on the specific positions they coach.
“The one thing we did a good job was we went out for two-and-a-half weeks at the start of May and saw a lot of guys,” Golesh said. “When we got back together for the last week and a half when we’re going to see position guys, some of that changes. You have that planned, but that can change when we were in here together two weeks ago. We said, ‘All right, this guy is better than this guy. We better go see this guy.’ ”
Face time with recruits
The evaluation period is just that. Evaluations.
“You can’t have any contact with the kid,” Golesh said. “You’re dealing with the coaches. It’s strictly an evaluation period, so you can evaluate him in spring ball, track meets, baseball and workouts, but you can’t sit there and talk to the kid.”
Coaches are allowed one phone call a week to potential recruits. Illinois coaches use technological tools like FaceTime, Skype and Tango on their phones so the recruits can at least see their faces.
It’s a way for Beckman, who could not travel during this evaluation period due to an NCAA rule change several years ago that barred head coaches from hitting the road in the spring, to reach out to recruits in a different way.
“If he can’t go out, we figured, ‘How can he talk to them and see them in person?’ ” Golesh said. “A lot of these kids have iPhones and iPads now. When we’ve been on the road as a staff, we’ve scheduled days to be here (in Champaign) together and gotten ahold of those kids that way.”
Beckman said he is in favor of reaching out to recruits in this form. With only one caveat. He’d just like to see some of the high school coaches on the other line, too.
“We’re not really Skyping with high school coaches,” Beckman said with a laugh. “I love recruiting, though. It’s another game. It’s another challenge. It’s become an all-year thing.”
Kanteman on board
Trevor Kanteman will join the Illinois football team.
It’s just unclear exactly when he might actually take the field for the Illini.
Illinois received an oral commitment from the tight end/H-back last week. The Woodland Hills, Calif., native spent last fall at Pierce College, a junior college in Los Angeles, just up the road from where Kanteman played high school football at Royal (Calif.) High School.
He did not play last season for Pierce while he recovered from a torn ACL in his left knee that he suffered midway through his final season at Royal, where he caught 50 passes for 554 yards and two touchdowns in seven games his senior season.
He grayshirted last season at Pierce, meaning he attended classes but did not practice or compete.
So even though Kanteman graduated from high school in 2012, when he arrives at Illinois he’ll be considered a true freshman.
Kanteman had offers out of high school, but mostly from Football Championship Subdivision schools, with nearby UCLA showing some interest. Time will tell if Illinois offering him early leads to a recruiting steal. Hard to tell given he hasn’t played a football game in nearly two seasons.
“In high school I wasn’t as athletic as I am now,” Kanteman said. “I spent a lot of time rehabbing. It helped me become a lot more explosive.”
Kanteman said Illinois receivers coach Bellamy was the main recruiter on him and that Illinois first became interested in him after taking a look at another Pierce player.
“I guess I caught their attention,” Kanteman said. “Coach Bellamy is a great coach. I’ve already used some of the pointers he talked to me about, and I see them making a difference.”
Kanteman checks in at 6 feet, 4 inches and 240 pounds. He said he is fully healed and plans to arrive in Champaign sometime this summer, making him the sixth junior college transfer Beckman has brought in with the Class of 2013.
“I’m ready to contribute,” Kanteman said. “I like the tradition at Illinois and think they’re going to be on the rise. I know I can play at this level. That’s why I didn’t take up any of the offers coming at me out of high school and went the junior college route.”
Making the grade
More than half of the Illinois football team received a grade- point average of 3.0 or better for the spring semester.
According to Beckman, 51 of the 92 players hit that mark or exceeded it in the last four months of classes.
It’s a talking point Beckman will undoubtedly bring up when he spends the summer speaking with various civic groups or at the football camps he’ll spend much of June working.
“The biggest thing is that we set a plan and put it in place,” he said. “I was proud of the way the kids performed and have gotten better each semester. We need to continue to accomplish those things. What we can do in the classroom is huge. We talk about it every time every semester arrives to set a new standard for the football team. This group has.”
Beckman gives the standard answer you might expect from a college football coach in regards to the 2014 Illinois football schedule.
“I haven’t looked at it much,” he said. “We’ll worry about Southern Illinois and the 2013 schedule.”
Youngstown State, Texas State and Western Kentucky are the home nonconference opponents, while some notable Big Ten games include opening up at Nebraska for the second straight season and hosting Iowa for the first time since 2008.
“It will be interesting playing Iowa again, and it’s always hard to play in Lincoln,” Beckman said. “There’s no question about that. I played there one time prior to coming here (as an assistant at Oklahoma State). It’s an exciting place to play football at.”