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NORMAL — Brannon Barry called his first exposure to college and college football "basically a 24-hour grind."

In the next breath, the wide receiver from St. Charles labeled the experience "very beneficial."

That's exactly what Illinois State coach Brock Spack has in mind for his group of incoming freshmen, who began classes at ISU earlier this month and are working out with the rest of the Redbirds.

"We throw it all at them. We don't hold anything back," Spack said Wednesday. "We push them hard. This is what college football is like. This is what you signed up for."

Barry is part of a group of 23 recruits on campus before training camp officially opens in early August.

"It's a little bit of shellshock. It's a lot different from high school," said Barry. "Workouts, classes, meetings, study halls and then repeat five days a week. We can start to manage our time and get our priorities straight for fall."

Spack likes to have his new players enroll in two classes during the summer session with the goal of getting each off to a positive academic start while taking a small chunk out of the credits necessary for graduation.

"These guys are under a lot of pressure to progress toward a degree," Spack said. "A football player like a volleyball or soccer player when they come in (for the fall semester) they jump right into their season. There is no time for orientation. They've got a full class load and football is really hard. There are a lot of distractions. A lot of things get in the way."

Christian Gibbs, a wide receiver from Waubonsie Valley, understands why he needed to pass up his final summer at home.

"This is what you wanted to do," said Gibbs. "You've got to be here working and getting better."

"This is a big benefit," said Daejgeon Love, a linebacker from Peoria Richwoods. "At home I would just be working out and not learning the playbook. Coming over the summer, I'm getting connected with the freshmen class and the older guys are teaching me things."

The new Redbirds are working with the ISU strength and conditioning staff for the first time. And in a new NCAA rule, they are also allowed meeting time with the ISU coaching staff.

"That has really been great. Learning from the other quarterbacks and Coach (offensive coordinator Kurt) Beathard has been one of the best things," said Jake Kolbe, a quarterback from Naperville Central. "I think we'll be really prepared getting down here this early."

This Redbird recruiting class is probably the most highly touted in Spack's tenure.

"We've got to forget about that. Football is football," Barry said. "We have no one to blame but ourselves if it doesn't go right. That means we didn't work hard enough. We have a lot to live up to with our own expectations as well as the coaching staff's."

The incoming recruits got to know each other through social media as they committed to sign with ISU. Now they are becoming acquainted on a daily, more personal basis.

"We're all on 10th floor of Manchester. I feel like I've already been living with them two months," said Kolbe. "We're constantly with each other. They're all great guys. It's going to be a good bond over the next four or five years."

Spack and his staff also enjoy a close up look at their newest crop of players.

"There are some guys who need some maturity. We have to nip some bad habits in the bud in the summer," said the ISU coach. "It hits them right between the eyes. As hard as it is now, it gets harder.

"It's better to know now than in the fall when they've got 12 to 15 hours of class and screwing it up. Sometimes you weed out the guys who don't really love it because you have to love it. You find out who the contenders are and who the pretenders are."

The lone player to sign with ISU in February not on campus is Oak Lawn Richards linebacker Romel Hill, who is expected to attend junior college.

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