Lou Hernandez has a mandate as the Illinois Strength and Conditioning coach. He must help Illini players reach their peak level of size, strength, flexibility and endurance to accentuate their talents. For the Illini offense, that begins with starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
"I think right now Scheelhaase has a great goal," Hernandez shares. "He's already about 10 to 12 pounds heavier than he was during the season. You've got to be a little more careful with a quarterback when it comes to weight gain and the specificity of throwing.
"He's a guy we all know is not gonna slide when it comes to contact. So it's important for him to have a little musculature and a little bit of weight to him. We have a real good functional number, his goal weight that we're looking for. He's definitely moving in the right direction with that.
"Most importantly, his leadership when it comes to being vocal, for such a young guy, he's doing a great job with it. And most important by example. He's gonna be first up in line, he's gonna try to win every race, every drill, and try to do an extra rep. He's done an outstanding job."
Star running back Mikel Leshoure decided to enter the NFL draft a year early, and he was rewarded with a 2nd round draft pick. Now Illinois must find a replacement.
The favorite in that race is upcoming senior Jason Ford. Ford has three years of experience, and he's talented. However, he also tends to gain weight easily. Sitting behind Leshoure last season, he gained extra weight that slowed him down.
"The thing with Jason Ford, he just happens to be like 99% of us. He just enjoys eating. Everybody who's trying to lose weight can sympathize with that.
"He's making some really good progress right now. He let it get way out of hand last year. It was at a point where it was too much of a concern. So he is actually on his way right now.
"He's about 10 pounds away from where we'd like for him to be to report to camp. So we still have the summer, and he's definitely making strides in the right direction.
"The thing that tells me that he can continue to lose some weight is his body fat. He's a 15% guy; he's chiseling it down to 12%. If we can get him down right at 10 or under 10, hopefully that will be around the 235 pound range and will be a great weight for Jason Ford. So can do everything he needs to do to be an every down back."
Leshoure was determined to transform himself into a star running back last year. He made a commitment to eating properly, getting into top shape, and becoming a responsible team leader. Ford can see the positive results from the self-sacrifice. Now it's his turn.
"Absolutely. Leshoure came in at 240 pounds and 12% body fat. His sophomore year, we brought him down to about 230, 235. At 225 and about 8% body fat, it looked like we were on to something really good. So we worked on that going into his junior year. He kept his weight right on the 225 mark, his body fat dropped down to 4%, and the rest speaks for itself as he had a tremendous year.
"So yes, hopefully that's got Jason Ford moving in the right direction, to see the guys in the past with Rashard Mendenhall, Pierre Thomas and what it takes to continue to move to that next level."
Fellow senior Troy Pollard pushed Ford with the best spring of his college career. Hernandez says Pollard has earned his stripes.
"Troy Pollard's always been just a great, consistent worker. It looks like this year he was really standing out in the winter, really getting to some bigger numbers. Troy is definitely doing a great job."
Sophomore running back Bud Golden has also made considerable progress.
"Bud Golden is definitely making great strides when it comes to strength improvements. As he gets a little bit older, it's great to see his maturing and getting a little more focus. It's great to see the things that he's doing."
The big surprise on last fall's Illini team was freshman fullback Jay Prosch. He arrived from Alabama as a workout warrior, and Hernandez helped him improve his body even more.
"When Prosch came in here, he was about 255, and he was 13% body fat. So the thing I'm looking at with this big, bulky kid, I'm gonna bring his weight down considerably. Then watching as his body was progressing and hardening up this summer, that 250 weight that he has just seems to be ideal for him.
"Going into the season this year, his body fat dropped down to 6% at his playing weight of 250. He's a little bit heavy right now with his body fat, but come summertime he'll be back down to that same 6% again. Just a great worker."
Most receivers have the opposite problem. They are often slender and must increase not only their strength but their weight as well. Hernandez says the Illini's leading receiver has made progress since last year.
"A.J. Jenkins has definitely improved with his work ethic going into his last year. He's put on a little bit of weight as well. He's trying to push some heavier weight and reach certain goals. So he has improved considerably."
"It's not easy for those guys to gain weight. But both of those guys are already ten pounds heavier than they were last year. They've made some great gains. They're getting better in the weight room and making some great strides.
"They're smaller-framed guys, so the numbers they put up are not gonna match up with larger-framed guys. But they're definitely moving in the right direction."
Tight ends and offensive linemen are discussed in part three of this four-part report.