Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Joe Hynan
The University of Illinois has been losing ground in high-school football recruiting. This year the Illini are trying to make it up by recruiting top junior-college athletes around the country.
According to ESPN, last year all of U of I’s top 10 recruits were high-schoolers. This year, four of them were athletes at junior colleges.
Head coach Tim Beckman said junior-college recruits are helpful because they are known commodities, unlike their high-school counterparts who often have surprising careers.
Also, junior-college players have had two extra years to hone their skills and build up their bodies in preparation for college football. These traits allow coaches like Beckman to use them to plug immediate holes in their roster.
“These guys only have two years to build their resume. They want to play as soon as possible,” Beckman said. “We can use them to fill needs on our team.”
Jihad Ward, the U of I’s top junior-college recruit according to ESPN.com, is one of those players.
He is a defensive tackle and will be used to beef up one what was of the worst defensive lines in the Big Ten last year.
When asked about Ward, Beckman said “He’s doing good. Real good,” and began snapping his fingers to demonstrate how quick Ward is on the field.
And unlike high-school recruits who can be denied acceptance by the university the football program is able to check ahead of time with the admissions department on junior-college recruits to make sure they have a green light.
“The good this is that you know that these guys are going to get in,” Beckman said.
The interest Beckman has in junior-college recruiting comes from his time as a defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State University. “It worked for us at Oklahoma so I’m trying to bring that success to this program,” he said.