There's no break between classes in college football recruiting. The process is seamless - evaluation, offers, commitments, signings - with coaches staying in constant contact with prospects, building relationships, and selling their program.
For Illinois, the transition between recruiting the 2014 and 2015 classes has already begun in earnest. While the staff is still looking to add players at key positions in the current class, high school juniors are on the clock and showcasing their talent for college scouts.
"We have a good idea of what the needs are in 2015," said Illini tight ends coach Alex Golesh, who does double duty as the recruiting coordinator. "If you look at our offers, they have been largely based on what positions are projected to be open."
Illinois conducted several camps this past summer, including "satellite" camps in the Chicago and St. Louis areas. There was a big emphasis on getting a good look at underclassmen. In today's recruiting environment, programs can't afford to wait long to establish relationships with top talent.
"Kids are committing a lot earlier," Golesh said. "It's forcing us to evaluate a lot earlier, its forcing us to project a little bit more and be right on your projections. But the big reason is because film is so much more available, so the evaluation has started a lot earlier."
So far, Illinois has verbal scholarship offers out to 66 high school juniors. The focus up to this point has been "Illini Nation" - Illinois and the surrounding states. The no-brainer types get the early offers. For a developing program like Illinois those are the toughest sells, but a few 4-star prospects do have the Illini on their radar.
Topping the list is wide receiver Miles Boykin from New Lenox (Ill.) Providence Catholic. Boykin camped at Illinois last June and picked up an offer on the spot. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Boykin more than passes the eye test. The Illini have Boykin's attention - he has already visited for two Illinois games this season. More competition will emerge as the process plays out, but the Illini should be in it until the end.
Two highly regarded prospects from down-state power East St. Louis might be a tougher sell. Running back Natereace Strong and defensive end Terry Beckner Jr. - both 4-star recruits - already have impressive offer lists. The Illinois staff was at E St. Louis high school during the bye week to check on them. Whether the Illini have made enough progress with this duo to land them on our initial hot list is to be determined.
Balancing the roster is a key component in recruiting. According to Golesh, the ideal scenario is to be able to recruit to every position, every year. Quarterback will get special attention, however. Expect the Illini to sign a QB every February.
"You want to take a quarterback in every class," Golesh said. "At the end of the day you want to take a player at every position so you are spread out. But you definitely want a quarterback. "
Three 2015 quarterback have picked up early offers from the Illini. One QB who was recently on campus is Lisle (Ill.) Benet Academy prospect Jack Beneventi. Like Boykin, the Illinois game vs. Miami (Ohio) marked Beneventi's second trip to Champaign for a game this season. Most feel that Notre Dame is the team to beat, but Illinois is right in the mix.
The one in-state player who has probably been on campus at Illinois more than any other is DeKalb athlete Dre Brown. Brown has become a mainstay at Illini games, beginning last season. Spoiler: An Illini hot list wouldn't be a hot list without Brown on it. Illinois offered Brown (5-foot-11, 191 pounds) early and are recruiting him as a running back.
According to Golesh, the Illini staff began their evaluations with prospects from the state of Illinois, meticulously evaluating film on every possible D-1 player who saw the field as sophomores. During the recent bye week, the staff spread out across the country.
"What we've done is, we went through Illini Nation - Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri," Golesh said. "We started in Illinois and we went through every kid that played as sophomores. We just now are getting into Georgia, Florida, Texas, California - kind of our secondary areas that we are trying to focus on."
Ohio has been a hotbed for the Illini. Head coach Tim Beckman established relationships with high school coaches from the state during his stint at Toledo. Five members of the Illini's 2013 class are from Ohio, as well as two committed players in 2014.
Some top Ohio targets in 2015 (among 21 with Illinois offers) include running back Andrew Dowell from Lakewood St. Edward, offensive lineman Hunter Littlejohn from Olentangy Liberty, and defensive back Kei Beckham from Trotwood-Madison. Beckham visited Illinois for the Southern Illinois game on Aug. 31.
Offensive line is probably the position that requires the most time to prepare a player to compete at a high level physically. With 10 linemen on the current roster who will be juniors or seniors in 2014, the Illini will look to sign several OL in 2015 (11 have offers so far.)
Gabe Megginson from Jacksonville (Ill.) has offers from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The Illini staff checked out one of his games during the bye week and he was at Illinois for an unofficial visit in August.
Orange and Blue News will publish our initial 2015 hot list the third week of October. The first list will include 15 prospects. Some who will make the list are obvious, but there will be a few surprises. One thing is certain - the hot list could change dramatically if Illinois keeps having success on Saturdays.
"Honestly we talk about it all the time - the best recruiting is what you do on the field," Golesh said. "If we can keep winning it would help this class and the next class."