Glenn Foster will never forget his first sack for the Illinois football team. The defensive tackle burst up the middle untouched and flattened Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden for a ten yard loss. He's had a big smile on his face ever since.
"Man, it took a lot of pressure off me. Now my goals are a lot more reachable. It makes it that much easier to do it again. It was exciting.
"I was like tackling him, and I wondered if he had the ball in his hand. I looked down at him, and he had the ball in his hand. I was like, regardless of the pass protections, I was going get to that quarterback somehow."
It is amazing what a brief flirtation with success can do for a person's psyche. It can literally transform an average player into a quality one simply by providing a big confidence boost.
"Now I'm gonna take that step. For all my pass rushes, I'm just gonna know that, especially if I'm single-blocked, no one can block me. On our last play, the 54th play on our defense, I got in the backfield and I was this close to getting that quarterback a second time. I think the running back pushed me from behind, and I fell to the ground. But it was fun."
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was happy for Foster but realizes much more is possible.
"It was good for him. He wins these conditioning sprints after practice, like he was a deer out here. We talk to guys all the time about releasing the things that hold them back. We all have these things that keep us from being as good as we can be. We need to get rid of all those distractions and all those things.
"Glenn has some of those. Glenn's got a ton of potential. We desperately need Glenn to play as well as he can. Hopefully he'll just continue to get better."
Foster explains one of his present limitations.
"I messed my shoulders up. I messed my first one up spring ball, and hurt my other one in the summer time. So both shoulders are restrained. I wasn't so confident with my hand placement, being physical and attacking. I had these restrictions holding me back.
"But I felt like a lot of these great athletes get banged up, and they play through it. The second half, I loosened up my braces so I could get a little more flexibility. I got used to playing with these restraints. But I didn't get much better playing with the handicap. When I had these handcuffs off, so to speak, I could be more physical."
Will he eventually need surgery?
"Hopefully not. If I could play good like this, I don't need it."
Foster began as a defensive end but was moved to tackle in the spring to provide additional depth at a depleted position. It was a disadvantage to weigh so much less than the offensive linemen.
"It's going a lot better than spring. I put on about 15 more pounds. I now weigh 280. It's kind of hard for me because my metabolism's going a little fast."
Apparently, the extra weight didn't slow him down.
"No, not at all. Through conditioning this summer, I was able to maintain my speed. I waste a lot of energy coming off the ball because I'm a lot smaller than the guys on the offensive line."
The Chicago Mt. Carmel graduate had previous experience on the inside, so the transition has gone fairly smoothly despite some growing pains.
"I've developed tremendously. In high school I played nose guard and tackle. Like my coach said, it was a gap over from d-end. I've learned a lot, my awareness is up a lot more, my technique is a lot better than it was in the spring.
"I'm able to be more explosive off the ball because I'm right there next to the center. I'm able to make a lot more plays because Coach Vic (Koenning) allows us tackles, the inside guys, to move around a lot. I can be more effective in the backfield. I have really quick feet to make inside moves, so I can get into the backfield and make a play."
"I'm pretty good playing at tackle. I'm a little light for the nose guard position. Liuget is a three year starter, and he's at the three technique. In games, I come in for Spence. Liuget goes down to nose guard and I play tackle. I'll be playing some nose as well, but not a lot. I'm best at the d-tackle."
Foster is an eloquent spokesman for the defense. Add the confidence created by a big-time sack, and he can sell tickets to Illini games.
"We've been hungry since the last game last year. There was no reason whatsoever to have a season like that. Coach Vic turned this defense around. All these blitzes, and having the d-line get into the backfield and disrupt plays. We're excited.
"We have a lot of mental bills from last season, through the winter conditioning, spring, summer workouts and Rantoul. We're now getting at it. We've got a lot of learning to do, but we're just hungry. We're just ready to attack."
Illinois has an advantage this year. Other teams may not take them seriously after last season's poor play. Foster says the Illini are playing free without pressure as a result.
"The pressure's not on us. I believe the pressure is on the other teams we play. We're supposed to be a win for them, but we're gonna turn the season around tremendously.
"I've been waiting for awhile to show America and the Big 10 what this d-line is capable of. The d-line and the whole defense is gonna make a big impact on the Big 10."
Whether he gets another sack this year, Foster will forever be changed for the better by the experience. It makes him more determined than ever.
"If I have a goal, I'm not gonna let anything stop me. I'm just gonna push myself. All I need is experience and more reps, and I'll be able to dominate."