Illinois placekicker Derek Dimke was named Co-Special Teams Player Of The Week in the Big 10 after hitting four field goals and three extra points at Penn State last Saturday. The Lou Groza National Collegiate Place Kicker Award cited Dimke among three placekickers who distinguished themselves last Saturday around the nation.
These are prestigious awards, but Dimke refuses to get carried away about them. Individual awards are secondary for him.
"It feels great. But to be honest, it feels better to get a team win. That's the most important thing."
Isn't that what you are expected to say?
"That's what I really think. We got a team win, that's what matters. We played well in all phases of the game."
Dimke was given a Big 10 award once last year also. To him, it is just a piece of paper.
"You get a little certificate. I give it to my parents. They like it."
The 6'-0", 180 pounder credits the other special team players for much of his success. Indeed, everyone must do his job correctly to make field goals.
"I've got the line helping me out, I've got (Zak) Pedersen snapping perfect, and Anthony (Santella) gives me a good hold."
Through five games, the junior from Rockford Boylan has hit 10 of 11 field goals. His only miss was a 41 yarder into a 25 mph wind that killed it just short of the goal. Dimke is a perfect 12-12 on extra points and leads Illinois in scoring with 42 points.
This is quite a contrast from his performance in Camp Rantoul this summer. Both he and backup Matt Eller, star kicker of the 2007 season, struggled with consistency. Normally extremely accurate, both raised doubts prior to the season.
Fortunately, Dimke put those negative thoughts out of his mind long before the season began. He has an explanation for the early problems.
"Camp Rantoul is a tough place to kick. The grass is long. You're kicking every day. It's a lot easier to get into a rhythm during the season. Get your leg in a certain rhythm so where you feel good every Saturday. That's the most important thing."
Perhaps tired legs had something to do with it as well.
"We always kick a lot in Camp Rantoul. But that's only to get better. Those matter, and those we do in practice matter. But what really matters is on Saturdays."
Dimke was the kickoff man his freshman year, and he became the #1 kicker last year after Eller faltered. But he prepared even better for this season.
"I feel like I've gotten a lot stronger in the offseason, I'm working a lot harder. My strength is so much better than last year, and my accuracy is just working on being consistent. I want to be as consistent as possible."
Dimke, whose kickoffs have prevented any long runbacks, has also contributed a tackle on a kick return. Like his teammates, everyone is sacrificing self-interest for the team.
"Nobody's really caring what position you play or what your role is, everybody contributes and builds the team atmosphere."
Illini coaches have worked the team hard, but improved play on Saturdays makes it worthwhile.
"The coaches are getting on us harder than they've ever been, but that's because they want to win and we want to win. It's nothing personal, we just want to get better. This year there's a lot more passion and a lot more drive not only to win but to make everybody the best they can be."