New Illini football coach making good impression

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New Illini football coach making good impression

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.

DeShone Kizer stays the same leader for new group of Notre Dame teammates

DeShone Kizer stays the same leader for new group of Notre Dame teammates

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A number of teammates took the field for the first time with DeShone Kizer during the cacophony of Sunday night’s atmosphere at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. And much as Kizer did last year, he led the Irish offense with a certain kind of poise and mentality that deftly toes the line between confident and cocky. 

“When we were down by two touchdowns or when it was tied, he had the same demeanor,” sophomore receiver C.J. Sanders said. “That really speaks volumes about him as a man.”

Kizer wowed his teammates a year ago when he subbed in for the injured Malik Zaire and threw a game-winning touchdown to Will Fuller. It wasn’t just for the throw, but it was also for the way in which the quarterback conducted himself in a hostile, pressure-packed environment. 

Last year’s Irish offense, though, was loaded with leaders. Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Chris Brown were pillars on that team, and there were veterans all around like Fuller, C.J. Prosise, Steve Elmer and Amir Carlisle. 

Notre Dame only returned a handful of upperclassmen who played on that 2015 team in Kizer, Torii Hunter Jr., Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson (running back Tarean Folston was injured in Week 1 against Texas, and tight end Durham Smythe missed the remainder of the regular season after an injury in Week 2). 

So that meant there was quite a bit of inexperience permeating Notre Dame’s offense Sunday night. But some of those greenhorns said Kizer’s composure and confidence helped them ease into a roaringly-intense evening. 

“When we were down, he brought us together and said we’re going to drive and score and come back,” sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown said, adding that message from Kizer gave him and the rest of the Irish offense a confidence boost in the second half. 

“What young guys typically don’t understand when they go into that environment is that it’s not too much different from what you’re doing in practice,” Kizer said. “When you step in front of 100,000 people, there’s a lot of noise and that could definitely create some adrenaline. But other than that, we’re playing the same game that we’ve been playing all summer. 

“The plays have been made time and time again all offseason and just understanding that when they’re out there, they’re expected to make those same exact plays and all they have to do is do that and do that well. You don’t have to go out there and be someone else. We have a really good coaching staff who put you in good positions to make big plays and all you have to do is execute what they say.” 

Leadership is one of those nebulous things every football player and coach will tell you is necessary, but it’s a quality that’s impossible to quantify. It’s not an end-all, be-all for an offense or defense — Notre Dame, after all, didn’t score when it got the ball back after Jarron Jones’ miraculous blocked PAT, which probably had more to do with the loss of Hunter Jr. than anything else — but it is something that can be pointed to as an asset in close games. 

And with Kizer quarterbacking the offense, Notre Dame has to feel confident in its ability to hang in close games. It still needs its special teams, defense (which was primarily behind recent losses to Stanford and Texas) and coaching (behind the loss to Clemson) to come through, but the next time Notre Dame finds itself in a high-pressure, hostile situation, it can count on Kizer to keep things calm. 

And that counts for something, whatever the extent of it is. 

“Before the game he kind of talked to us, got in front of us and told us hey, I don’t care how young you are, I know you guys can make plays,” Sanders said. “So just hearing that from him developed a comfort level to know that he can depend on us. Hearing that from him really made a big difference.” 

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola didn't have the season they were hoping for in 2015-16 but they're optimistic that things can turn around for the upcoming season. Even though the Loyola roster is filled with newcomers, the Ramblers are hopeful that a summer trip to Spain can help give them a head start.

As part of the trip, Loyola will get 10 extra practices and four games against Spanish competition that will give the team some much-needed experience before practice officially begins in October.

Head coach Porter Moser is already happy about working with this group, which features some productive returnees and a lot of talented newcomers.

"We play four games over there. They get that feel of being coached in a game at this level with their teammates," Moser said. "So then when we start back up in October they have a sense of some of the things we're trying to teach, some of the things of what to expect. And I think that's such a big element."

On a team full of new players, it will be important for senior guard Milton Doyle to have a bounce-back year for Loyola after a disappointing junior campaign. A former star at Marshall, Doyle saw his shooting percentages dip last season as the Loyola coaching staff challenged him to improve for his final season of college basketball. 

Moser is happy with the strides that Doyle has made this summer as he's added over 10 pounds of muscle to now play at 192 pounds. Also committed on the defensive end of the floor and being a team leader, Doyle is the Ramblers' only senior this season, so he'll be counted on to be a productive presence.

"It's a lot this year just because we had four seniors leave last year and I'm the last senior," Doyle said. "So it's my job to make sure everyone stays on track and everyone is uplifted, even when coaches get on them. That's my job right now."

Junior wing Donte Ingram — a former Simeon product — and junior guard Ben Richardson also return as key contributors from last year's team while Iowa State transfer guard Clayton Custer is expected to come in and be a major factor in the team's backcourt rotation.

As for the newcomers, Moser compared juco transfer forward Aundre Jackson favorably to former Loyola forward Christian Thomas while Vlatko Granic gives the team a stretch option at forward that they didn't have in the past. The team's freshmen are also very talented as guard Matt Chastain has shown solid athleticism and a good basketball IQ through some early practices. 

Another freshman guard, Cameron Satterwhite, is coming off of a torn ACL that cost him his senior season, but the Loyola staff is optimistic about his recovery for this season. Croatian freshman guard Bruno Skokna is also recovering from injury as he has played against professionals in Europe the last few seasons on an amateur contract. He is expected to be cleared soon so that he can return to action this season.

"I love this group because it's a group full of gym rats. This is a really enthusiastic group," Moser said. "They've come together, we've got a lot of newcomers. That's the benefit, that's why we did the Spain trip this summer."

Loyola takes its trip to Spain from Aug. 12-22 as they'll hit cities like Barcelona and Madrid during the trip.