The Illinois Football program has seen a little success over the past decade or so. After every season in which they succeeded, the Illinois Fighting Illini saw a direct correlation in their recruiting.
In 2002, Kurt Kittner led the Illini to the Sugar Bowl against the LSU Tigers, which they lost before Kittner was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. As a result, the Illini had three four-star recruits and a five-star recruit in 2003. In 2008, Illinois was selected to play USC in the Rose Bowl, another huge bowl game that they would subsequently lose, primarily due to their four turnovers. Due to that season, the Illini had five four-star recruits in 2009.
After a couple more bowl visits over the past few years, the Illini have shown that, at times, they have what it takes to be a very solid team. They have just had a hard time keeping any long term momentum going.
It seems to many fans that a good year is followed up by a couple rough years. That being said, the Illini could find several ways to improve recruiting, and in turn improve the entire football program, simply through being more appealing to higher caliber athletes. This is not just simply a way to, as my grandma would say, “put lipstick on a pig”. Illinois has great potential, and simple improvements could really turn Illinois into a team that can compete for Big Ten Championships on a regular basis.
The first thing that the University of Illinois could do is to improve their facilities. It has long been noted that the weight room is one of the best in the nation. I have seen the weight room and the setup is great! The atmosphere makes you want to work out.
That being said, it is about more than just weight rooms to student athletes. The locker room has got to be something that pops out to these athletes.
Illinois’ current setup is nice, but a little modernization could really spice things up in there.
Let’s be honest: frivolous things stand out to 18 year olds. David Cornwell, a top Quarterback recruit who recently committed to Alabama, noted in a tweet that Alabama, perennial powerhouse, has a waterfall in their locker room. You read that right, a flipping waterfall in the locker room. You think that doesn’t stand out to people who may be interested in playing for you? Now I am not saying Illinois should waste money by putting a waterfall in the locker room, but it is things like that, unique things, that stick in a teenager’s mind.
Secondly, the atmosphere needs to improve as well if the Illini hope to bring in some high caliber players. The staff took a step in the right direction by adding the huge video screen at Memorial Stadium and it is things like that that will impress athletes. The field itself is not too bad, but the interior of the stadium could use a little bit of a face-lift.
Perhaps adding a ribbon board around the entire stadium, similar to what is going in the new State Farm Center, would not hurt the look of the Memorial Stadium. A big issue is the fan base. Now I know what you are thinking: It can be so hard to watch a team struggle, such as was the case last season. I fully agree. However, when we leave the stadium half full, people see that and they want the rush of 60,000 fans screaming for their team. Last year at the Penn State game, I felt like there were more PSU fans than that of the Illini.
Our loyalty has to remain to our team, through good and bad, because no matter what, they are still our team. If we want good players, we have to make sure to do our part to support the team that we want them to play for. Basketball got a huge shot in the arm this year on recruiting from the fan base. I understand that winning helps. It sure does. Even through bad seasons, though, the players rely on us to pick them up.
Atmosphere is a huge area we can improve, and the majority of it starts with us, the fans.
The final way is the most obvious way and it is the only way that the fan base can not help with. On the field production has got to improve. If we have visiting recruits at a game, and we get shellacked by 30, there is a good chance that person may think otherwise about putting on the orange and blue for their college career.
Another way is to grab a big time recruit. We have already seen some of this, as what I am calling the “Wes Lunt Effect”, as Malik Turner committed to the team shortly after Lunt, knowing that Lunt’s ability and talent bode well for the successes of the University of Illinois. Big time players want to play with other big time players.
If we could grab some of the high caliber guys in state and in the area, we could have a chance to compete for other top tier athletes. One guy can not change an entire team, but they can help the process.
All in all, Illinois has the potential to be a team in the Big Ten that gets seven to nine wins a year and is towards the top of the standings. With the potential offensive game that Cubit brings to the team’s dynamic, this year could be huge for the Illini and their recruiting.
If they are able to capitalize on some success, the Illini should see a direct reflection of that in their recruiting. As for now, let’s just hope for a visit to a bowl game to show the recruits what we could bring to them.
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