It’s no secret the state of Illinois has recently had a problem with losing their high school football talent to more attractive offers given by out-of-state teams – often Big Ten foes.
In Evanston, Pat Fitzgerald has reinvigorated the old-school philosophy of recruiting a certain kind of future student-athlete and has seen his share of success doing so. As someone who has spoken with Fitzgerald in the past regarding his recruiting MO, Big Ten Network editor Sean Merriman lent some insight into Northwestern’s success.
“As a former player, he does a great job of identifying with kids and selling the culture of the program. Within recruiting circles, he is without a doubt considered a ‘player’s coach.’”
2014 was a bull year for the state of Illinois in terms of high school football prospects, and Fitzgerald landed three in-state recruits (including Justin Jackson pictured above) in TheRivals250. Sticking with the unfortunate trend, however, the top four representing Illinois all committed elsewhere – including one to Ohio State and one to Nebraska.
2015’s list features only five in-state prospects, and despite his controversial stance that Illinois’ academic standards are damaging his recruiting efforts, Illini head coach Tim Beckman landed the only one staying home. While some fans took this as an excuse, Merriman feels there is some legitimacy to the claim.
“Just look at Gary Andersen. It’s believed that part of the reason he left Wisconsin for Oregon State is because he felt hindered by academic standards held at Wisconsin. But at the same time, there are plenty of schools with higher academic standards seeing greater success on the football field.”
Ranked at a modest 228th, Gabe Megginson will join an Illini offensive line that was shuffled about regularly last season due to injuries. Of the remaining four 2015 high school graduates included in the rankings, two are headed to Missouri, one to Michigan State, and one to Notre Dame.
Looking ahead to 2016, Illinois is represented by only four players at this point in time. Two of which are undecided, one gave a verbal commitment to Michigan and the other to Beckman and the Illini. While his time in Champaign hasn’t been what he was hoping for, a bowl berth last season took Beckman off of any hot seat going into the off-season.
In wrapping my conversation with Merriman, I asked if he would consider playing for Illinois or Northwestern if he had the option as a high school Illinois prospect, given his insight into the programs.
“There’s a few things to consider. Illinois and Northwestern have an advantage in terms not only proximity to home, but also the fact that kids may very well get the opportunity to play earlier in their career than they would elsewhere. But they also want to play for a team that will see success on the field, play in bowl games every year, and give them a chance to play in the NFL. Unfortunately, neither Northwestern or Illinois have a consistent track record of providing such on a regular basis.”
Until they do, it looks like the trend won’t be changing much.
(Featured Image courtesy of Penn State)