Bam Hardman is in his second year as a graduate assistant at Illinois. He was a tremendous athlete at the University of Florida.
"I played at Florida and had a little stint in the NFL. I played SAM linebacker for three years and played MIKE for one year. Now I'm into coaching."
It can be difficult getting into the college coaching profession. Being a graduate assistant allows Hardman to attain a Master's degree while learning more about coaching.
"My job mostly entails getting the offensive breakdowns for our opponents on film, and then getting our scout guys ready to show the looks of our opponent. We also do some stats for our guys. That's mostly what my role as a defensive assistant is.
"I'm working with outside linebackers this year. Last year I was with defensive linemen, so I do also have an opportunity to coach. I grabbed hold of the role because it gave me an opportunity to learn some other positions and get a feel for the whole scheme."
He learned a lot working with defensive line coach Keith Gilmore last season.
"Oh yeah, that was a new experience. But I took it all in. It makes the whole experience of learning football even better.
"I didn't have a lot of knowledge of technique (with d-line). So to learn it last year and also teach it is a great opportunity for me. I appreciate it."
Hardman is looking for new coaching opportunities that may come his way now that he has more experience.
"Hopefully I get a full-time position. That's normally how it works, and I'm looking forward to it. This business is all about opportunities. Whenever there's an open opportunity available, you have to make sure you're knowledgeable about that position, grab hold of it and be able to teach it."
One thing Hardman has helped the Illini players with is understanding how to win. He was accustomed to winning at Florida, so he has credibility when he speaks. He feels the Illini are not far away from becoming a consistently successful program.
"The thing is, we have a lot of talent here. I think we're just a play away from being a dominant program. Guys have high spirits. I have had a lot of success, and I try to get the guys I work with to understand that they're a play away. For them, to be positive and confident is a major factor in having success."
Successful teams believe the ball will bounce their way. They believe they will win game after game. That is essential according to Hardman.
"You do have to have confidence. That is a key factor in having success. You can go out and believe you know what's going on. It allows you to play full speed. That's what you need at this level. Be not afraid to make a mistake, and then you have success."
It seems in the past 15 years or so, Illinois has had a few winning seasons but couldn't sustain it. Whenever bad things would happen, Illini players would lose confidence quickly. Hardman sees a different perspective with successful teams.
"The good teams have adversity, but they rebound against it. It's all about the next play, and that's what we have to be able to do. The thing I think we're doing a better job of this year is, once we have a bad play, believing in the next play."
A big part of maintaining excellence in a program is recruiting success. Hardman is restricted to visiting with players when they are on campus, but he is watching and learning how Illini assistants recruit.
"It helps. For one, just seeing the other coaches going through the experience is a big part of it. And then, once they come in and you experience a recruiting weekend and being around the players and their families, is a big part of it. Being able to take it all in will help me in my professional career."
Hardman has seen the long hours the assistants put into coaching and preparing for their opponents. They work late into the night with their recruiting responsibilities as well as coaching. Despite all that, Hardman still wants to coach.
"Yeah, I'm taking it all in. I went through it as a player, and now to see it go on behind the scenes is a tremendous thing. I can appreciate it much more now."