Southland must be on Lovie Smith’s radar for Illinois football to thrive – Chicago Tribune
8 months ago Comments Off on Southland must be on Lovie Smith’s radar for Illinois football to thrive – Chicago Tribune
Two out of three isn’t bad. But can Smith turn around Illinois football?
He can if a majority of elite, in-state recruits share the excitement that Lincoln-Way East offensive lineman Kurt Gavin has about playing for Illinois.
“It was huge for me to have the opportunity to play for my state school,” said Gavin, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior. “I take pride in being able to do that. Illinois is a great school. I don’t know why kids wouldn’t want to go there.”
Gavin chose Illinois last summer over approximately a dozen schools, including Syracuse, North Carolina State and Nevada.
He committed to Illinois when Tim Beckman was coach, which was shockingly three hires ago.
Gavin was excited to play for Beckman, just as he was excited to play for we-hardly-got-to-know-you Bill Cubit.
He’s equally excited to play for Smith, the former Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach.
“I was a fan of Lovie with the Bears,” Gavin said. “I always thought he was a good coach. He’s really well known. He should be able to help us get more recruits.”
Let’s say, prior to Monday’s official hiring, if I asked you to compile a list of any 10 people you believed could turn around Illinois football.
Would Lovie Smith have been on your list?
I believe Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti would have been on more lists than Smith.
It’s a stretch to believe that a 17-year-old, after listening to recruiting pitches from Ohio State‘s Urban Meyer, Michigan‘s Jim Harbaugh, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Lovie Smith, is going to choose Illinois.
If Illinois is going to move up the Big Ten standings, that scenario must play out in Smith’s favor a few times each recruiting season — be it in Texas, California, Pennsylvania or Ohio.
Smith has to poach some blue-chip talent from other states that requires jet fuel, not unleaded premium. However, the lifeblood to any state program is being able to land talent from your backyard.
Those are the kids, from communities across this state, who will fill the majority of Illinois’s roster.
If Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, full of pride and passion for all things purple, is pitching a recruit, does Smith stand a chance?
You listen to Fitzgerald speak and every word has conviction behind it.
He’s not a car salesman.
Can Smith match that? Does he bleed orange and blue? Or is he in it for the $21 million over six years?
We’re going to find out.
The Fighting Illini’s spring roster consists of 31 players from Illinois, including Marist graduate Ryan Tucker, Sandburg’s Jonathan Milazzo, Lincoln-Way East’s Nick Allegretti, Lincoln-Way North’s Julian Hylton, Crete-Monee’s Jaylen Dunlap and Oak Forest’s Ryan Walton.
Each was a standout in high school.
But what the Illinois roster lacks is a Laquon Treadwell, Nic Weishar and Nyles Morgan. Those are local blue-chip recruits who would help transform Illinois into a Big Ten contender. Instead, Treadwell spent three years at Mississippi. Weishar and Morgan are at Notre Dame.
With the exception of one year from 1989 to 2007, Illinois had at least one player from 12-time state champion Mount Carmel on its roster. Since 2008, there hasn’t been any, even though the Caravan have developed multiple Division I players.
Defensive lineman Steve Richardson sure would look good in orange and blue. Except he’s at Minnesota.
Still, Lenti believes Smith is a good choice.
“You’re talking about a guy with an NFL background,” Lenti said. “I think kids are going to want to play for him. They need to keep the kids in this state. Lovie has his work cut out for him. He’ll get people on his staff that will help him turn things around.”