Ashton Washington

Illinois football coach Lovie Smith announced the hire of Texas native Ashton Washington as director of high school relations Tuesday. She is the first woman on Smith's extended coaching staff.

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CHAMPAIGN — Recruiting the state of Texas is a priority for the Illinois football program.

It’s not a surprise, then, that Lovie Smith has done so beyond simply adding to his roster.

Smith announced the hire of Ashton Washington as Illinois’ director of high school relations on Tuesday afternoon. Washington will replace Joe Price, who spent just the 2019 season at Illinois before leaving to become director of player personnel at Texas-San Antonio.

Price is a Texas native and former high school football coach. Washington, who becomes the first woman on Smith’s extended coaching staff, is a Texas native, too.

“One of these days you’re going to see a female walking down through the Smith Center, too,” Smith said this past February. “To me, if you are qualified, we are going to find you.”

Washington most recently served as a business and gameday operations specialist for the Houston Roughnecks in the XFL. The league suspended operations and declared bankruptcy in April in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington’s duties with the Roughnecks included helping to manage business operations, logistics, facility operations and gameday operations.

Washington, a Houston native, is a 2019 graduate of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, where she earned a bachelor’s in mass communication. She started her career in football as the director of operations/recruiting for The Old Coach, which is a media outlet dedicated to high school football coverage in Texas. Washington was the head of social media for the company.

“Ashton Washington brings a unique skill set to the Smith Center, really something that no one else in the building has at this time,” Smith said in a statement on Tuesday. “She is high energy, extremely organized and brings a different perspective in how we will engage with recruits when they are on the University of Illinois campus. Ashton is a great fit with our staff and program. I can’t wait for all of us to be together again working toward bringing the best student-athletes we can to our campus.”

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).