Cornell Reflects On First Year As Starter

The Fighting Illini offensive line stayed together all season long, opening holes for the running game and protecting for the passing attack. Due to a lack of depth, the Illini basically used just six linemen all season. Jack Cornell was considered sixth man before the year began, but he emerged to take a starting role.

Jack Cornell was a 4-star prospect out of Quincy Notre Dame when he arrived at Illinois. It took him until his fourth year on campus to emerge, but he is now a fixture at guard for the Illini.

"I got hurt a little bit earlier in the year, and that kind of slowed me down. But I'm just glad I got the chance to go out there and compete with my friends."

How does he evaluate his first year as a starter?

"I still have things I need to get better on, but I did some good things and bad things. I'm just trying to maximize the good things and keep going along."

Cornell is grateful to be part of a line that is greater than the sum of its parts due to its oneness as a group.

"We pride ourselves on being a unit. We all hang out together and know each other real well. I think that pays off on the field."

There wasn't much depth, but it helped to have Hugh Thornton rotating with Randall Hunt and Cornell at the two guard spots.

"We only had about 6 of us that played, but everyone stepped up when they needed to. The good thing about having 6 people to rotate is that we always had a fresh lineman."

Cornell was a redshirt freshman when the Illini earned a Rose Bowl berth in 2007. He is looking forward to playing in the Texas Bowl December 29.

"We're really excited about that. We've got a lot of work to put in before we get there. But everyone's looking forward to it."

The 6'-5", 315 pounder has a number of quality memories about the 2010 season, but one stands above the rest. Helping the Illini accumulate 559 yards total offense, 519 on the ground, while playing at Wrigley Field will live long in his memory banks.

"That was a tremendous game, a tremendous effort by Mikel (Leshoure) and all the running backs. An unbelievable venue. It's something I'll be able to tell my grand kids down the road. It was a tremendous atmosphere. Everything about that game was so awesome. It's something I'll never forget."

Illinois ran better than it passed this season. Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase is still in a learning phase, but Cornell considers offensive line failings when discussing the Illini pass offense.

"Nate's a young guy; he's coming along. Obviously, up front we need to do a better job of protecting him so he can make those reads and make those throws. I think Nate's gonna come along, and he's gonna be a really good quarterback. He definitely works hard at it, and he has excellent leadership skills. I'm excited to see what he's got."

Cornell has one more season, and he knows there is still more to learn and more improvements he can make. He doesn't limit himself when asked the things he needs to improve.

"Everything. There's not one thing in particular. The good thing about off season workouts here is you get everything better. Your speed, your flexibility, they really work on everything. I'll just take it one day at a time.

"I can always continue to get better, keep getting in better shape. I don't think I need to lose any more weight. I think I'm pretty much down enough. But continue getting stronger, leaner, all that stuff. That really pays off on the field."

Cornell and his teammates are focusing solely on the Texas Bowl, but he admits to some excitement when considering 2011.

"Right now our focus is on this bowl game. But I think everybody senses we've got something special going. I think the main thing, and something the coaches are emphasizing, is we don't want to come out here next year and lay an egg like we did after the Rose Bowl year. We want to come back and be better than this year."

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