CHAMPAIGN — Illinois put its bye week to good use. A couple practices to keep a competitive edge. Some time off for recovery and getting the players’ bodies some much-needed rest. Plus some time on the recruiting trail.
Lovie Smith’s stance on recruiting hasn’t changed. The Illini coach stressed that a new training facility would make a difference in selling the program. So would more success on the field.
Illinois now has both. The Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center opened this fall. Four straight wins and bowl eligibilty locked down for the Illini (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) ahead of Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff at No. 19 Iowa (7-3, 4-3) took care of the second half of that equation.
“I said that people will listen to us a little bit more when we got that better the facility,” Smith said. “The other thing I continued to preach was when we get a better product on the football field people will listen to us more and take us more seriously.
“I think that’s definitely the case right now. We had a chance to go out recruiting and we’re constantly recruiting, but the response has been good.”
Illinois’ recruiting pitch hasn’t changed even as the facility and result on the field has. What the coaches try to sell to prospective recruits now is the same thing they sold when landing their first eight 2020 recuits, including four stars (per the 247Sports Composite ranking) CJ Dixon, James Frenchie and Jadon Thompson.
“We’ve been selling Lovie’s vision,” Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. “There’s kids that bought into it when times were a little rough, and there’s kids taking more notice now during this time. The message hasn’t changed, but the response has definitely changed. I promise you that. A lot more eyes, a lot more ears to listen to you and a lot better response in terms to the kids we’re talking to.
“It feels great. It feels awesome. Once again, I think we have some guys who are tremendous recruiters as well that can go out. They grind it, they work it and they’re good recruiters. It just helps their case and helps all of our cases as we move forward selling kids on our vision for the program.”