CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Terry Hawthorne says he was like fleas on a dog.
“I was just reaching out, reaching out to him, calling, texting, everything I could,” says Hawthorne.
The former Illini was trying to get back to Champaign, and years of persistence finally paid off.
In March, he was hired onto Bret Bielema’s staff as the Director of High School Personnel and Illini Relations, leaving his coaching role at East St. Louis High School.
“It was one of those things where I was like, ‘Hey, I feel like I can go back to the college level, and give them the knowledge and experience that I wish I had when I was here,” says Hawthorne.
“When I sat down and interviewed with him on a couple different occasions,” says Bielema. “I just felt this a guy we need to have in the building.”
Hawthrone is the blueprint for the brand Bielema is trying to create at Illinois. The in-state defensive back was a two-time All-Big Ten selection, leading the Illini to back-to-back bowl wins in 2011 as a the defensive MVP. Two years later, Hawthorne was a fifth round pick in the NFL Draft.
“His story resonates really, really well,” says Bielema. “The fact that he wants to come back here, he’s very proud of his background and where he’s been, but more importantly where he can go from this point forward.”
“It means a lot to be back at my Alma Matter,” says Hawthorne. “I’ve been trying to get on for the longest just to help the program and get the program back where it was.”
Hawthorne is still among the highest ranked recruits to ever come through Illinois. And a big part of his role this summer is to try and bring that kind of in-state talent back to the program.
“Every school can be on top. Why not Illinois?”