Stars lacking, but Zook still excited about 2010 class

There was no last-second commitment from a prized recruit and no surprises on signing day Wednesday for the Illinois football team.

After having successful signing days the last four years, ranked the 2010 Illini recruiting class 69th nationally and eighth in the Big Ten after 20 players signed national letters of intent Wednesday, pledging themselves to Illinois.

The Illini were ranked in the top 35 nationally and top five in the Big Ten each of the last four years.

The drop could hardly be considered surprising, as the Illini coaching staff has gone through a shake-up in a year the Illini had fewer scholarships to work with than normal and fewer wins.

Both defensive coordinators were demoted to position coaches (Curt Mallory has since left the program), while offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, receivers coach Jim Pry, quarterbacks coach Kurt Beathard and special teams coordinator Mike Woodford were all let go.

Perhaps the biggest hit of all to the recruiting class was losing recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Reggie Mitchell, who left to coach under Turner Gill at Kansas.

It’s not to say that the Illini didn’t have recruiting success early on. Four-star recruits tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and defensive back Corey Cooper committed orally to the Illini early in the recruiting process but each decided to go different ways in the end.

“Unlike last year … it didn’t go exactly as planned, but I’m excited about where we are and what we’ve got,” Zook said.

Cooper signed with Nebraska on Wednesday morning, citing Illinois’ coaching instability as a reason for the switch.

Fiedorowicz, who switched his commitment to Iowa in November, told the Chicago Sun-Times he “didn’t like what was going on at Illinois” and that he would feel more a part of the offense at Iowa.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of negative recruiting going on, but that’s part of it, and the guys we’ve got here want to be here,” Zook said.

The new Illini coaching staff secured commitments from seven states that aren’t represented on its current roster (Tennessee, Michigan, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas).

Zook said he was pleased with how quickly his new coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, adjusted.

“I was very impressed with how the new guys picked up and acted like they’d been there the whole year,” he said. “This is an experienced staff that knows what they’re doing.”

Zook’s staff drew commitments from four offensive linemen after the graduation of starters Eric Block and Jon Asamoah and replaced four departing receivers with four recruits.

Darius Millines and Ryan Lankford should add speed to the receiving corps, as each is listed as having run 4.4-second 40-yard sprints.

“If you look at who we lost, we’ve filled in the positions,” Zook said.

“What we did is just helped our football team. Hopefully we’re to a point where we don’t have to count on freshmen playing, although I think there will be some guys that have a pretty good opportunity to do that.”