Holecek: 'You trust the man'

Holecek: 'You trust the man'

Lovie Smith didn’t wait long to contact one of the state’s top high school coaches. And John Holecek appreciated the gesture.

The day Smith was hired at Illinois on March 7, one of his first calls was to Holecek, the coach at state power Loyola Academy and a former star linebacker with the Illini.

Smith’s call had two purposes: to touch base on recruiting and to see if Holecek had any interest in joining the staff.

With three young sons at home and a job he enjoys — Loyola Academy won a Class 8A state title this past November — Holecek politely declined.

“I’m in a good spot,” Holecek said.

Smith wasn’t the first Illinois coach to ask him about joining the staff. Others have tried.

“It’s a tremendous honor just being mentioned,” Holecek said.

On the recruiting front, Holecek wants his Loyola players to consider Illinois in the future.

“They have before,” Holecek said. “Illinois was a close No. 2 with our last Big Ten recruit.”

Smith opens more doors, Holecek said.

“When he sits down in somebody’s living room, that’s impressive to anyone who has grown up in Chicago,” Holecek said. “You trust the man. He has tremendous respect as a mentor to players. It’s all positive from my end.”

Holecek, a lifetime Bears fan, praised the Smith hiring.

“I love it,” Holecek said. “To have someone with that much respect in the world of football, it’s immediate credibility. We’re relevant again. Illinois hasn’t been relevant in the national scene. I told one of the recruiting services, ‘95 percent of these kids think they are NFL football players.’ Who better to develop a college player into a professional than someone with his background and his development skills.”

The consensus among high school coaches Holecek talks to is that Smith was the right choice for Illinois.

One of the first assistants Smith added to his staff was former Illini center Luke Butkus, who will run the offensive line.

“It’s a great hire,” Holecek said. “He has great Illinois ties and no risk because he’s already worked with Lovie. All the alumni were very excited to see that.”

Two of the top coaches in the Springfield area are planning to attend part of next week’s statewide high school coaching clinic in Champaign.

Sacred Heart-Griffin’s Ken Leonard and Rochester’s Derek Leonard might also take in a practice.

Ken Leonard’s former receiver, Malik Turner, plays for Illinois and won a 5A state title with the Cyclones in 2013.

Illini quarterback Wes Lunt and receiver Zach Grant were stars at Rochester, which won five straight 4A state titles from 2010 to 2014.

“I’m excited about the new staff,” Ken Leonard said. “It stirred up new interest in Illinois football. I think it was a great move.”

Recruiting Illinois is important to the program’s future, Ken Leonard said.

“They’ve got to hammer Illinois, own downstate and get a bunch of these Chicago kids,” he said.

Derek Leonard has a trio of Division I-level receivers going into their senior year at Rochester: Collin Stallworth, Deante Cox and Avante Cox.

Derek Leonard thinks one of the top priorities for Smith and his staff is to get out and meet the high school coaches in the state.

“If I took over the Illinois job, I think it is the most important thing,” Leonard said. “The biggest influence on the kids is the high school coach. There are certain places you have to go see, you’ve got to walk in the door, you’ve got to meet people.

“I didn’t mind Coach (Tim) Beckman, but I think early on that is one thing they struggled with, not connecting with the high school coaches and not making that a priority.”

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jdstieg wrote on March 23, 2016 at 8:03 pm

But Lovie Smith doesn't know anything.  Just ask Moonpie the Magnificient, who is anti-Illinois and anti-NG.

The Magnifient will be here to tell us John Holecek doesn't know what he is talking about because he stated that Lovie was a great hire.  That makes him anti-Moonpie.

So let's see MTM is now anti-Illinois, anti-NG, anti-Loren Tate, anti-John Groce, anti-Lovie Smith and now anti-John Holecek.  Who's next?

yellowjacket wrote on March 23, 2016 at 9:03 pm

Moonpie, your rebuttal from the "Great Moonpie Handbook"?

illinifaningeorgia wrote on March 24, 2016 at 7:03 am

I can't believe you guys!!!

You keep enabling and encouraging this dirtbag (I refuse to mention his sign-in name) by mentioning him in every single story!!!  You've made him a celebrity on this board. 

Un-frigin' believable.