Beckman laying the foundation at Illinois

Tim Beckman's recruiting efforts the past two months haven't attracted as much attention as those of his former boss, Urban Meyer, but the new Illinois coach has taken some important steps for the future.

Beckman, whose reputation as a recruiter helped him land the Illini job in December, is focusing recruiting efforts on areas within a five-hour radius from Champaign, which includes markets such as Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and, for those lead-footed drivers, Memphis. While Beckman had limited time to finalize the 2012 recruiting class, he and his staff have been working on the 2013 crop, trying to get as many juniors on campus as possible. Illinois held its junior day on Sunday and had a strong turnout.

Another junior day is scheduled for March 10.

"We've had so many different weekends where we've tried to get people in," Beckman told ESPN.com. "This last weekend, we had an official junior day. The weeks prior to that, it has been people who have come in during the week or during the weekend. So exact number-wise, no idea right now, but I would say 300 to 400."

The state of Illinois is loaded with top prospects in the 2013 class, and Beckman and his staff have attended clinics around the state. Illinois' 2012 class received average to low marks, making 2013 even more important for the new regime.

Illinois on Tuesday landed its first verbal commitment for 2013 in cornerback Dillan Cazley from Charleston, Ill.

"The reception's been awesome," Beckman said. "We've got a lot of great contacts in this five-hour radius with our coaching staff. ... It still comes down to building relationships and trying to build the relationships with the kids throughout the Illini Nation. So if it's Facebooking, if it's following each other through the different social medias, it's still very, very important to showcase what you have here at Illinois."

Beckman has tried to build a culture of competition with the current players, starting with the winter conditioning program. He also has instituted some new policies. Players must sit in the first two rows of every class. They also must log six hours of community service per year, four in the offseason and two during the season. Beckman has tweeted about the team attending a dinner at a local Boys and Girls Club and visiting elementary schools.

Some of Beckman's most important recruiting work has been retaining current players like defensive tackle Akeem Spence, defensive end Michael Buchanan and cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who could have jumped to the NFL draft but will return for their senior seasons.

"All the players have bought into the competitive nature that we do here," he said. "I've been proud of the way we've responded to the image we want to portray as a football team. There's things of course we can always get better at, the little things that can make this program a consistent championship-caliber football program."

That process begins Wednesday.