Illinois hired Lovie Smith in March. The timing put the former Chicago Bears coach behind the competition when it came to recruiting.
Smith continues to play catch-up. He does so undeterred, working to bring the Illini back to respectability.
Friday, Smith dipped into the talent-rich St. Louis area with an offer. Florissant (MO) Hazelwood Central High junior Dallas Craddieth was on the receiving end of the opportunity.
“I wasn’t totally surprised. They told me they really liked the way I play and were really interested in me,” the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Craddieth told Today’s U.
The 247 network ranks Craddieth as a four-star prospect, while Rivals and Scout see him as a three-star. Rivals shows him as a safety while Scout and 247 list him as a wide receiver. He’s the third best player in Missouri for a loaded 2018 Class in the state, per 247.
In addition to Illinois, Craddieth reports scholarship offers from Missouri, Wisconsin and Memphis. Others, like Nebraska and Oregon, are showing him interest.
Craddieth fits the bill as a type of player Smith seeks in trying to significantly upgrade the Illini’s talent. Rivals currently ranks the program’s ’17 Class 11th among 14 Big Ten schools.
Smith is selling hope having taken the Bears to a Super Bowl and filling his Illinois staff with guys who coached at the highest level. It’s catching Craddieth’s interest.
“I don’t know much about Illinois but having much of a former NFL staff I believe they’re gong to be really good in the years to come,” he said.
“I’m starting to build a relationship with the staff there. I’ve talked to Coach Smith and I talk to Coach (Thad) Ward a lot.”
St. Louis usually produces excellent players. It’s ’18 class is especially loaded with talent and the Illini would like to tap into it. Champaign sits less than 200 miles from the Gateway City.
“They’re really excited about the St. Louis area and want to try to get as many of us as they can so we can be a part of the new era they’re starting up there,” Craddieth said.
Illinois faces stiff competition for the services of those targets. Craddieth also likes fellow Big Ten teams Iowa and Wisconsin, who have experienced more success than have the Illini of late.
“Iowa is high on my list. I still want to visit Wisconsin and get to know the coaches there,” he said.
Craddieth told Today’s U that he’s not favoring any schools at this time. He’s keeping an open mind and trying to learn about all that are interested.￼
“I would say (the recruiting process is) going pretty good, not too fast or slow. Schools are showing interest so hopefully they’ll take a chance and offer so I can get to know their program,” he said.
The Illini is hoping to get to know him a lot better, and in the end, helps return to program to prominence.