Illinois Football re-connecting with in-state high school programs


(WCIA) — Oakwood football coach Al Craig and Tuscola coach Andy Romine are more optimistic about the future of Illinois football now than they have been in years. And for them, it all starts with in-state talent.

“I think the plan in place is the right plan to have success at Illinois. I really believe that,” says Romine.

“Some of the best players to play for Illinois are local kids,” says Craig. Going back to Fred Wakefield from Tuscola, J Leman All-American. The list goes on and on.”

Both coaches are ready to rekindle their relationship with the program and new head coach Bret Bielema — after feeling shut out by the previous staff. In 2016, Warriors standout Nick Bates was planning to join Illinois as a preferred walk-on. But after the coaching change that season, Romine called and called but never got an answer from Lovie’s staff — which ultimately led Bates to play junior college baseball instead.

“What had happened with our previous kid and the lack of communication kind of left a sour taste in our mouth,” says Romine.

“I thought we would be welcomed more into the program,” says Craig. “And in my time as an assistant and even a head coach that never really happened.”

Conversations have been brief, but they’ve left an impact on those they talked too. Romine spoke with offensive coordinator Tony Petersen about all things recruiting, different tight end sets, and how recent Tuscola grad Hunter Woodard left for the Big 12 after not getting an Illinois offer until late in the process.

Illinois will want to get back to times like 2017 — where the recruiting class was led by in-state guys.
Rather than 2020 — where not a single one of the 13 recruits was from Illinois.

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