PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Bret Beilema is trying to make amends.
He wants to see high school football players in Illinois head to his school in Champaign for college.
“I would say at least ten years that relationship hasn’t been there with the University of Illinois invested in our kids and our state,” said Washington Darrell Crouch. “I think it’ll change a lot with him.”
Bielema, an Illinois native, has opened communication with coaches across the state to try and keep top talent from leaving Illinois. Lovie Smith, the previous Illini coach, was criticized for not emphasizing recruiting in Illinois.
“They’re doing an outstanding job,” Normal West coach Nathan Fincham said of the Illini coaching staff. “When I talk to then and send them a text message, they get back right away. It wasn’t what we were getting before.”
At Dunlap, coach Brett Cazalet has had a couple of players go on to play Big Ten football, most recently Charlie Mangieri. The former Eagles tight end and defensive lineman went to Northwestern without being recruited by the Illini.
“He’s a three-year starter at Northwestern. Illinois never reached out to be about Charlie,” Cazalet said. “I think the Illini staff is doing a great job but they have a long way to go to catch the relationships area coaches have with (Northwestern’s) Pat Fitzgerald. Iowa always comes through here.”
Cazalet says he’s heard from a couple of coaches on Bielema’s staff this year. And he hopes the communication stays open.
“It’s great to see they are on the right track,” Cazalet said. “But they are a couple of years behind.”