From all indications, new Illinois football coach Tim Beckman appears to be doing most of the right things as he seeks to build firm relationships with high school coaches and media throughout the state and attract a class of prized recruits that will help to turn around the Illini program.
"He is very enthusiastic and personable, a high-energy guy who will do well in recruiting," said Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who recently had lunch with Beckman.
"He has to establish himself in recruiting. He must make the transition from the MAC to the Big 10, where recruiting is much more intense and he is dealing with elite players, some prima donnas. He is very knowledgeable. He wants to get things going at Illinois.
"He has a game plan and a young staff that is hungry and will go after it. Personality, aggressiveness and perseverance is what recruiting is all about. It seems like he has all the tools. Now he has to sell the public. Illinois has got to get off to a good start to convince kids that the program is heading in the right direction."
For openers, Beckman has announced the highest payroll ever for an Illinois football staff, a combined 2.3 million for nine assistants, including 400,000 each for offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty and defensive coordinator Tim Banks.
"That says they mean business, that they will pay as much as it takes to get a winning program and qualified coaches who have had a good track record," Lemming said.
"You have to pay now. It isn't as much as they pay coaches in the SEC. But it's a different game in the SEC. They have helped other conferences. They keep one-upping each other and other schools in other conferences benefit. There is lots of money to go around in college football."
But Lemming is critical of schools, including Illinois, that invite 100 or more high school prospects to attend Junior Day on campus. Beckman invited 100 to an event in February and another 110 in March.
"The proper way to do it is never to have big groups on one weekend, not more than 30," Lemming said. "You don't have enough people to show special attention to every player. With 100 on campus, 70 will walk away disappointed that they didn't get special attention. It usually turns out badly for the schools.
"Instead, they should invite 20 to 30 players and have only one Junior Day a month. Make it a special weekend. It is important to have an Illinois Day for Illinois players, an Indiana Day for Indiana players and a St. Louis Day for St. Louis players. Don't invite the same kids back each time. The purpose is to get each kid acclimated to the school and learn more about the staff and academics."
At Illinois' most recent Junior Day, it was apparent that Beckman is bringing in some of the most promising prospects in the Midwest, big-timers who are on their way to receiving multiple scholarship offers. And if he fills out his first recruiting class with four-star players from Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Michigan, it won't matter if he doesn't get everybody he wants from Illinois.
"If he has a great class of out-of-state guys, it all comes down to getting guys who will help you win," Lemming said. "You've got to try to get some in-state guys. But it more important to get great players, no matter where they are from. Everyone will try to get some of the best players in Illinois. It's a good class in 2013."
Three of the top 10 players in the class of 2013 in Illinois already have spurned Beckman's offers. Offensive linemen Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual have committed to Michigan and offensive lineman Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West has committed to Notre Dame.
One of the top prospects in Ohio, quarterback Malik Zaire of Kettering, chose Notre Dame over a dozen other suitors, including Illinois, Alabama, Nebraska, Northwestern, Arizona and Wisconsin.
Beckman still is hoping to land running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, offensive linemen Ethan Pocic of Lemont, Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Colin Goebel of Naperville North, wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee, quarterbacks Matt Alviti of Maine South and Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook, defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central and defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West.
Pocic and defensive tackler Merrick Jackson of Belleville Althoff were two of the leading Illinois products on campus last weekend. They were joined by defensive back Dillan Cazley of Charleston, who is Illinois' first commitment in the class of 2013.
"Nobody knew about Cazley," Lemming admitted. "But Illinois liked him on film and offered. They see a lot of good potential in him."
Pocic is one of the Top 10 offensive linemen in the nation, according to Lemming. He is in a class with Bosch, Tuley-Tillman and McGovern as the best offensive linemen in Illinois. "The senior season will show who is the best," Lemming said.
Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder, has offers from Illinois, Iowa and Missouri and also has interest from Kansas State.
Meanwhile, Beckman attracted an outstanding class of promising prospects from Indiana, Ohio and Missouri. Here is a look at some of them:
Jaylon Smith of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound linebacker, is the No. 1 player in Indiana. His brother is a running back at Ohio State.
He has 18 offers, including Illinois, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State, USC, Oklahoma and Michigan. According to Lemming, Notre Dame and Ohio State have an edge.
Tim Kimbrough of Indianapolis, Indiana, a 6-foot-1, 216-pound linebacker, has 17 offers, including Illinois, Florida, Arkansas, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State. He is one of the top three players in Indiana and plays for the top-rated program in Indiana.
John Kenny of Carmel, Indiana, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker, has offers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Arizona and Boise State. It is a good year for linebackers in Indiana. Four of the top six prospects in the state are linebackers.
Dennis Finley of Detroit, Michigan, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive lineman, is tall and athletic and has great potential. He has offers from Illinois, Cincinnati, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan.
Alonzo Saxton, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound cornerback from Columbus, Ohio, has offers from Illinois and Toledo.
Darian Hicks of Solon, Ohio, a 5-foot-10, 172-pound cornerback, is one of the leading prospects in the Cleveland area. He has offers from Illinois, Michigan State, Boston College, Cincinnati and Akron.
Jamone Boyd of Kansas City, Missouri, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound defensive end, is one of the top five players in the Kansas City area. He has offers from Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
Nick Ramirez of Lees Summit, Missouri, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker, is one of the top five prospects in the Kansas City area. He has offers from Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Purdue.
Marcus Bell of Westerville, Ohio, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback, has offers from Illinois, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, Arizona State, Toledo and Bowling Green.
Hayden Biegel of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound offensive tackle, has offers from Illinois and South Dakota. His brother was the best player in Wisconsin last year and signed with Wisconsin. His father was an All-American.
Kyle Meadows of West Chester, Ohio, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive tackle, has offers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Louisville, Toledo and Pittsburgh. Florida State also is interested.
Jarrod Clements of Dayton, Ohio, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end, has offers from Illinois, Louisville, Tennessee and Toledo.