The Illini's haul
is the wonder of them all
biggest geek in high school not only persuading Jessica Simpson to be his prom
date but pinning corsages on Eva Longoria and Beyonc� as well. Illinois coach
Ron Zook pulled off the recruiting version of that fantasy last week when he
induced three coveted prospects to come to Champaign despite his 4--19 record
in two years there.
Never has such a
downtrodden program attracted such a stellar class. Defensive end Martez Wilson
of Chicago spurned Notre Dame and USC. Wide receiver Arrelious Benn (right) of
Washington, D.C., turned down Florida State and Notre Dame. Defensive tackle
D'Angelo McCray of Jacksonville switched from Florida to Illinois in
How did Zook pull
off a 17th-ranked class? "Our staff went out and made real connections with
kids and their families," he says, "and we got the kind of players who
want to be part of turning a program around." Others are suspicious.
"If they had a winning program and all of that, it would be a different
deal," said John L. Smith, the recently dismissed Michigan State coach, to
The New York Times last week. "Where there's smoke, there's probably
Zook, who denies
any violations, has always been an exceptional recruiter; while at Florida from
2002 to '04, he signed 20 of the 22 eventual starters on the Gators' national
championship team. And no one has made any specific allegations of wrongdoing.
"It's a shame that these rumors are out there," says Zook. "But
that tells me that some of our competitors must feel we've been a little too
successful, which means we're doing something right."
Coming Soon to a
Field Near You
Here are the five
signees likely to pay the biggest dividends as true freshmen
QB, Notre Dame--He should be advanced: The younger brother of two former
starting quarterbacks at Tennessee, Clausen, from Westlake Village, Calif., is
already on campus working with coach Charlie Weis.
DE, USC--A speedy pass rusher from Avondale, Ariz., he'll help the Trojans
force turnovers--and let Brian Cushing, who played defensive end last year,
return to his natural linebacking position.