Without Zook Illini may lose Florida recruits

Critics questioned Ron Zook’s coaching ability plenty throughout his tenure at Illinois, which ended Sunday, but few could knock his recruiting ability.

Even while the Illini were sliding the past few months, Zook was still making ground on the recruiting trail. He landed one highly-touted recruit as late as Thursday and received three commitments on one day just two weeks ago.

“He’s always been able to get top guys to commit,” ESPN Midwest recruiting coordinator Jared Shanker said.

Zook’s 2012 recruiting class was shaping up to be another solid one. With his firing on Sunday, there will be questions whether everyone, especially his Florida recruits, will stay loyal to their commitments.

Florida has been a hot spot for Zook since he took over at Illinois in 2005. He’s had at least one Florida recruit in every class and had a total 21 Florida recruits from 2008-2011.

His 2012 class again included Florida players. Five Florida players are currently committed to the Illini. His two highest-ranked recruits -- linebackers Keith Brown and Tajarvis Fuller -- are from the Sunshine State, and running back Dami Ayoola, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., committed to the Illini on Thursday.

Brown, the class’s top-ranked player, declined to comment on Sunday.

“I think definitely the guys from the South are the ones who you’ll see most likely de-commit or at least look at other options,” Shanker said. “Zook was the reason the Southeast guys, especially Florida, were looking at Illinois. With him no longer around, there’s no connection to Florida.”

Illinois has a better shot at retaining its Midwest recruits. Six of the Illini’s 14 commitments are from that region.

Zook secured three in-state commitments -- Lincoln-Way East wide receiver Jason Robertson, Mount Carmel defensive tackle Vontrell Williams and Bolingbrook offensive lineman Robbie Bain.

Fresh off a state championship victory in Champaign on Saturday night, Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow believed Zook’s departure wouldn’t affect Bain’s commitment.

“Robbie wants to play in the Big Ten,” Ivlow said. “As long as the new regime honors his scholarship, he’s there 100 percent. You don’t fall in love with the coaches. That’s the first mistake in recruiting. There’s a good chance they won’t be there in 4-5 years anyway.”

Class of 2012 recruit Ryan Frain, a kicker from Indianapolis, also said Sunday he was firm in his commitment to the Illini.

“It was pretty disappointing,” Frain said of Zook’s firing. “It doesn’t affect my commitment. I’m just as committed as I was yesterday. I don’t think anyone, especially myself, picked Illinois just because of coach Zook. I thought he was a great guy.

“The people who are committed I think will stay committed. I hope that’s the truth. I hope nobody backs out.”