Olalere Oladipo could see the pride when he looked at former Illinois coach Bill Cubit on his recent Junior Day visit to the Illini.
The Huntley junior defensive end, whose first Division I football offer came from Cubit's staff, was shocked when the coach was then fired last weekend, replaced early this week by Lovie Smith.
"You could see how proud Cubit was to be the head coach," Oladipo said. "He had a plan for the program. ... I had received mail from him and talked to him every week on the phone."
Now, there's transition. But the junior recruits, such as Oladipo and Richmond-Burton offensive tackle Dalton Wagner, aren't getting lost.
Both say they have been contacted by an Illini assistant coach and are hoping to set up a time to speak with Smith soon.
"To me, [hiring Smith] might ultimately be a better decision," Oladipo said. "I can say I’m pleased that Lovie was his replacement. I know that no mediocre coach is taking over the program."
As the spring comes around, the recruiting season will heat up for juniors such as Oladipo, who has 12 Division I offers, and Wagner, who has 13. That means it will be important for the Illini and others to make headway quickly as recruits begin to pick their favorite spots.
Oladipo plans to visit Northwestern and Miami (Ohio) this weekend and has been talking with Penn State and Iowa State.
That pair, along with Jacobs quarterback Chris Katrenick, are the three area juniors who hold Division I offers. But they are probably not the only players who will end up with one.
Katrenick's most recent offer came Wednesday from defending Division I FCS champion North Dakota State. He already had offers from Virginia, Miami (Ohio), Buffalo and Bowling Green. Hampshire quarterback Jake Vincent also has spoken with North Dakota State coaches and plans to visit there this spring. Prairie Ridge tight end Austen Ferbet hopes to do the same.
Wagner's most recent college visit was to Arkansas, where he spent plenty of time with new Razorbacks offensive line coach Kurt Anderson, and he came away pleased.
"Everyone was so nice," Wagner said. "You're not going to play for someone you don't like, so that part is important. I also got to meet their strength coach (Ben Herbert). He's a very intense coach, and that was awesome."
At 6-foot-9 and 295 pounds, Wagner is simply larger than most football players, even offensive tackles. But he said that coaches have been impressed with his ability to play with a low pad level and speed, which is why he has become such a hot commodity for college recruiters. He attributes plenty of that to his high school coaches, including R-B offensive line coach Tad DePorter, who continuously tells Wagner to get lower.
Wagner, who also recently visited Missouri, said he plans to narrow his list this summer and might wait to make a commitment until after the fall season.
Several area juniors, including Vincent, teammate Jared Hornbeck, Ferbet and McHenry linebacker Colton Folliard were at the recent Junior Day at Northern Illinois. Folliard, who also visited Iowa State for Junior Day, feels he's close to an offer from NIU, where his cousin Sean Folliard is a starting linebacker.
"I've been talking with them for about a year now," Folliard said. "I've got a really good relationship with them. ... The first camp, when I went over there, coach (Rod) Carey told me that someday I could be replacing [Sean]."
Cary-Grove junior fullback and linebacker Tyler Pennington was also at Illinois' Junior Day, along with Oladipo and Wagner, and took visits to Western Michigan and Central Michigan, as well.
Johnsburg lineman Joe Moore, who recently visited Buffalo, is one of the many athletes hoping the work they are doing now will pay off in offers this summer. Johnsburg coach Dan DeBoeuf has organized speed and agility training for all athletes at the school, along with coaches Rob Eastland and Sam Lesniak, while Moore also takes a weightlifting class and is throwing the shot put.
"Coach DeBoeuf told us, the day after we lost to Phillips, we were expected to be back in the weight room," Moore said. "(What they've done), I feel like that has helped out our school as a whole."
Area's top juniors
School/position: Richmond-Burton, offensive tackle
Height/Weight: 6-9, 295
Offers (13): WMU, Illinois, Miami (Ohio), Louisville, Buffalo, Mizzou, Toledo, Illinois St, Indiana, Wyoming, Arkansas, Syracuse, Utah
Upcoming visits: Hoping for Oklahoma, spring practice at Arkansas, Indiana
School/position: Huntley, defensive end
Height/Weight: 6-4, 235
Offers (12): Illinois, Illinois St, Central Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan, Wyoming, Toledo, Indiana, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Buffalo, New Mexico
Upcoming visits: Northwestern, Miami (Ohio)
School/position: Jacobs, quarterback
Height/weight: 6-2, 195
Offers (5): Virginia, Miami (Ohio), Buffalo, Bowling Green, North Dakota St
School/position: McHenry, linebacker
Height/weight: 6-1, 228
Recent visits - Iowa State, NIU
Upcoming visits – Eastern Michigan
School/position: Cary-Grove, linebacker/fullback
Height/weight: 5-11, 210
Recent visits - Illinois, Central Michigan, Western Michigan
Upcoming visits - Likely NIU
School/position: Hampshire, quarterback
Height/weight: 6-2, 170
Recent visits - NIU, Vanderbilt
Upcoming visits - WIU, NDSU, UCF
School/position: Johnsburg, DL/OG
Height/weight: 6-3, 275
Recent visits - Buffalo
Upcoming visits - WIU, WMU, NIU, Cornell, Yale, Columbia, Princeton
School/position: Johnsburg, running back
Height/weight: 5-10, 185
Fall visit - Bowling Green
Upcoming visits - Western Illinois
School/position: Prairie Ridge, tight end
Height/weight: 6-4, 225
Recent visits - NIU
Upcoming visits - SIU, Winona St, Missouri Western, likely NDSU