Coaches haven't altered their strategy

Coaches haven't altered their strategy

CHAMPAIGN — Friday nights for the Illinois football coaching staff typically mean one of two things. Either they’re coaching the team like they did on Sept. 15 at South Florida and will do so in this week’s Big Ten opener against Nebraska or they’re in final game prep for a Saturday kickoff.

One Friday each season, though, the Illini coaches are able to shift their focus to the future. Like this past Friday, when the Illinois coaches dropped in on several high school football games — the peak of the late-week recruiting during the team’s off week.

“You constantly recruit, but when you get a bye week you get a chance to dig in and actually get out of the office and go see some kids play and make sure they know we love them,” Illinois offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. “Make sure some of the committed guys know we love them.”

Illinois currently has 15 commits in its 2018 recruiting class and multiple open offers to fill the last few remaining spots. In addition to that, there’s more than 100 offers out to players in the 2019 and 2020 classes.

“We have football that we want to get done and improve our current team,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said, “but you’re always looking to the future, too. We are going to flood our recruiting areas. We all have a full slate.”

Smith said Illinois hasn’t deviated from the recruiting plan it put in place last season — the first for the longtime NFL coach, who spent two decades between college coaching jobs. The goal, Smith said, was to execute it better in year two.

Illinois’ recruiting areas have grown with the 2018 class. While the Illini were able to land 10 in-state prospects in their 2017 class, Florida (six) and Texas (four) have taken the lead for 2018. With 18 of those 2017 recruits having already played this season as true freshmen, matching that quality in future classes is at the top of the Illinois coaching staff’s list.

“That’s what we got lucky with last year,” McGee said. “Every guy we added was a quality, bonafide Big Ten player. That’s what we’re trying to do is just build more depth and build with more good players so that we have the type of roster that everybody has to show up and produce on the practice field because there’s another guy in your position that’s just as good.

“That’s how you end up with a very competitive team is that there’s depth at every position and everybody’s got to show up week in and week out and day in and day out and play well.”

The biggest change with the 2018 recruiting class is the fact committed players now have an early signing period. They can sign their National Letter of Intent from Dec. 20 through Dec. 22 in advance of the Feb. 7 National Signing Day for the regular period that extends into April.

“I believe in the early signing period,” Smith said. “Like now, we have a lot of guys committed to us. Why shouldn’t they be able to sign now? If you’re ready to get married, why not get married?

“I know during that time I’m anxious to see how that all plays out — not just for us, but for everybody else. I assume if you know where you’re going to go you’re going to sign early.”