Who says Illinois and Northwestern isn’t a legitimate rivalry?
Illini head coach Tim Beckman opened his press conference on National Signing Day with a shot at his upstate rival.
“We signed four football players out of the ‘state’ of Chicago, as we call it. And that is more than the actual team that is in Chicago signed,” Beckman said. “So we’re proud, and we want this state to understand that we’re proud of the high school football in this state.”
Beckman’s poke at Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern’s recruiting class was an odd one, for sure, given the fact that the Wildcats are being widely applauded for their ability to land three of the top-10 ranked players in the state of Illinois, all out of the Chicagoland area. Meanwhile, though the Illini might have beaten the Cats in sheer quantity (by one player), the quality — at least as far as the rankings are concerned — seems to be squarely on the side of Northwestern.
Beckman and Illinois didn’t sign a single player rated more than a three-star athlete by Rivals, while Fitzgerald and Northwestern brought in four of them, including those three players from the Chicagoland area: Wheaton North quarterback Clayton Thorson, Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson and Bolingbrook defensive back Parrker Westphal.
Per Rivals, the Illini’s best in-state recruit is Lincolnway East offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, the 20th-ranked player in the state. Beckman signed four more ranked in the state’s top 35. But Northwestern wasn’t the only Big Ten rival to grab multiple players in the Illinois top 20, as Ohio State and Michigan State each recruited two players from the upper echelon of the Land of Lincoln rankings.
For the state’s largest school and largest football program to get just one player in the top 20, that’s a concern for many Illini fans. And Beckman, despite his taunts, knows his program is not where it needs to be when it comes to recruiting its home state.
“Making strides,” Beckman said. “We continue to build the numbers, from scholarship to walk-on. That’s our goal. We can’t get them all, we understand that. Not all of them fit in our program, we understand that. But we also understand that it’s very, very important. And it’s very important to me that the Illinois football player is first in priority. As long as it fits the program, that they meet those standards that our university asks for that we are going to go out actively and extremely hard in getting those young men in this program.”