In 2000, longtime sports columnist Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette conducted an exhaustive survey of high school football in Illinois. Even today, it makes for compelling reading.
Tate selected his all-time teams from 1934-1959 and from 1960-1999 and came to the conclusion that an overwhelming percentage of the best players being produced in Illinois high schools weren't choosing to attend the University of Illinois.
I'm sure Illinois coach Ron Zook is aware of the history. The Illini football program doesn't command a loyal following within the state as Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State do within their borders. Perhaps that is why Zook has become more of a national recruiter.
In 2000, Tate noted a Chicago Sun-Times article that revealed only three of the 20 all-time best linemen in the Chicago area had attended Illinois--Evanston's Alex Agase, Wheaton North's Jim Juriga and Clifton Central's Bill Burrell.
Today, the list could be expanded to include Martin O'Donnell of Downers Grove South and Xavier Fulton of Homewood-Flossmoor.
But Illinois' inability to recruit the top prospects in the Chicago area extended to other positions--only three of the top 20 receivers, only three of the top 20 linebackers, only one of the top 10 quarterbacks and only six of the top 20 running backs.
Tate also pointed out that only two of the 22 Players of the Year on the News-Gazette's all-state teams picked Illinois--Montini receiver Bob Westerkamp and Belleville West linebacker Matt Studtman--and never made an impact in the Illini program.
Of the 48 players named to the News-Gazette's all-time teams, 18 attended Illinois while 30 went elsewhere.
Sure, some of the selections are arbitrary. But no one questioned the talent and potential of Bloom's Bryant Young (Notre Dame), New Trier East's Clay Matthews (USC), Farragut's Otis Armstrong (Purdue), St. Rita's Dennis Lick (Wisconsin), Blue Island Eisenhower's Jimmy Smith (Michigan), Maine South's Dave Butz (Purdue) or Proviso West's Flozell Adams (Michigan State).
"What we do know, what has become unmistakably clear over the decades," Tate wrote at the time, "is that unlike Ohio and Pennsylvania, in-state athletes are no pushovers for the state university. The feelings of loyalty aren't the same as we see in Georgia and Nebraska. That traditional fact speaks directly to the question of why it is so difficult to pull the Illini over the hump and keep them there."
The issue is as mainstream today as it was in 2000. It is as much a challenge to Ron Zook in 2008 as it was to Pete Elliott in 1960.