Bret Bielema made it clear when he took over at Illinois that in-state recruiting was going to be a top priority. That was a refreshing change of pace in Champaign, where that was an issue under head coach Lovie Smith.

On Monday, Illinois director of recruiting Pat Embleton talked with the media to discuss briefly the program’s approach to recruiting. The emphasis that’s going to be placed on in-state talent — particularly in the Chicago area, is significant.

Embleton was careful not to let too much out of the bag:

The staff is going to have regular contact with in-state high school football coaches immediately. Developing those connections will be key for recruiting in-state talent and boosting the interest level in Illinois.

Over the past five seasons, developing those connections has been an issue, and it’s been why so many talented players from the state of slipped away to programs like Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and others outside the B1G.

During the offseason this year, Bielema poached the transfer portal because he was so far behind in recruiting. He’s been able to add some former SEC defensive backs and an ex-Notre Dame receiver to the roster during the offseason.

With so many entries into the portal, Illinois could continue to add pieces that way, as well.

Illinois’ 2021 recruiting class ranked last in the B1G, but Bielema is hoping to change that and quickly. And he wants to do it by keep the talented Illinois high school players close to home.