Illini Football is hosting another 7v7 Showcase

CHAMPAGNE, IL — Pat Ryan drove around in Illinois football’s custom-built golf carts and chatted with various coaches he’d seen from here and there. He was at home.

Ryan is one of the most legendary coaches in Illinois high school football history — particularly in the state — thanks to a highly successful tenure at Metamora High School. Ryan’s contact list is extensive and he is well respected in the Illinois High School coaching community, a particularly good mix of attributes for him in his current role as director of Illinois High School Relations for the University of Illinois football team.

Back in February and March, when the idea of ​​bringing a 7-a-side football showcase back to Memorial Stadium (and the outdoor practice field) came up, consistently held under the former Illinois head coach Ron Zook However, in recent years, Ryan has been less consistent in organizing the entire operation.

And it was a hit Thursday night, with state schools like Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, Rochester, Decatur MacArthur and Peoria as well as more northerly schools like Kankakee, St. Charles North and Chicago Leo.

“The high school coaches and players and really, you can just tell that Central Illinois feels welcome, I think,” the Rochester head coach said Derek Leonard, who has guided the Rockets to 8 state championships over the past 11 seasons. “That’s what you want. That’s all recruitment is are relationships. It’s not difficult. No offense, but it’s all about building relationships and chasing after. This is a great way to bring parents here and then kids talk about it. They walked into the hall and said, ‘Man, that’s great.’ Normal kids don’t see that. This is a chance for these kids to play and play at Memorial Stadium and see all the cool things they have.

“It’s huge for kids. Even indoors. The big players get to see it, but 95 percent of the world has never been in there and never been here and played. That’s huge for these kids. Then these kids will talk and their friends will talk. It’s like everything. The aura of it rises and people talk about it. Hey, they’re smart enough to do it. It’s a good tournament. It’s a good competition. They got good teams. This is great for Central Illinois.”

Four games were played simultaneously: two on the field at Memorial Stadium and two on the turf practice fields just outside Smith Center. The camp’s alignment allowed Illinois to get on-campus targets, like the 2023 Kankakee defense Jyaire Hilla very high priority goal for the coaching team that officially visited the campus.

“It means something to the kids,” says head coach Peoria High Tim Thornton said. “It means something to the kids to come to the place, I mean everyone is trying to come here to play the state championship game. I know every other year, it’s whatever. Second, some of our kids have never been to a place like this. You don’t see things like that. We want them to see what they work for and try to be and what a Big Ten practice field looks like and what a Big Ten indoor gym looks like and actually feels like, not just what it looks like on TV. I think it’s huge. I think it brings talent from the state to campus. I don’t see how it could be bad for them either.”

The return of 7-on-7s to Champaign doesn’t exactly feel like a one-time decision. There is interest in continuing this for years to come, with the potential to either add teams to a one-day event or potentially host multiple weekends, which would preserve a smaller number of teams and allow for a slightly more intimate environment.

Thursday’s 7-on-7 followed a flagship camp in the morning attended by hundreds of high school players, but the event went smoothly. And there are more to come.

“It’s great for the Illinois staff to rebuild this 7-on-7 clinic, which has historically been one of the best 7-on-7 clinics to go to, I think probably about 20 years ago years,” said Decatur MacArthur head coach Derek Spates. “On Saturday it was all day. Just for these guys, to the high school coaches, all the local teams and you have teams from Chicago here. It shows they are interested in keeping children in the state.

“I think it does because these kids are on social media when all the other colleges are big in unveiling their facilities. We stay 45 minutes from Smith Football Center and the hall and all the good stuff and they can see what Illinois has to offer.”

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