Akeem Spence Taking On More Responsibility

A big concern going into spring football practice was finding a replacement for Corey Liuget. That person appears to be Akeem Spence, who played alongside Liuget last season. A sophomore in eligibility, Spence has experience and has added important leadership along the defensive front.

Akeem Spence redshirted his first year at Illinois but burst onto the scene last fall. He was named a Freshman All-American, and big things are expected of him.

"I've made great strides since coming in as a freshman, when I was just learning the system. The next year I was in the starting rotation when Josh Brent left. Corey (liuget) taught me a lot. He taught me everything that I know right now. I'm just trying to take that to another level."

As one of the most experienced defensive linemen, Spence must do more than just play his position. He was asked if he feels pressure with Liuget gone to the NFL.

"Yes sir, I feel a lot of pressure. I tried to come out here and do what he was doing. Keep the defense going, keep the guys energized and basically be the leader for the defensive line. And at the same time, try to get big Craig (Wilson) to learn what he's got to do.

"I feel that pressure because I've got to fill his shoes. He did big things, and a lot of people are expecting big things from me. I have to live up to those expectations."

That's a lot of pressure on a young player, but he is convinced he can handle it. The year of experience helped.

"Yes it does. Things that I did last year, I can't do. I've got to be that leader. If guys get out of step, I can't do that because I've got to be a leader."

Long known as a good run stopper, the Illini need Spence to help more with the pass rush.

"My technique has gotten a lot better. The main thing I worked on this spring is becoming a better pass rusher. Learn how to get off guys' blocks, shed them and move my feet. Just be a better pass rusher and get to the quarterback every play, every play."

Playing Liuget's position is a new experience for him.

"I'm at the 3-technique right now. I'm trying to learn. I'm watching a lot of film on how Corey did it. It's a lot different playing the 3 than playing the nose. I struggle with it from time to time. It's a work in progress right now.

"I have to be a little bit quicker, so I'm trying to lose a little bit of weight. Work a lot faster and move my feet."

Spence was named a Freshman All-American, and big things are expected of him. He takes it seriously. Hopefully, he doesn't take it too seriously and forgets to have fun on the football field.

"It puts more pressure on me. I feel a little better, but at the same time I have to live up to that. It's tough. It's real tough. I'm trying to be level-headed, but it's tough."

Besides all his other responsibilities, Spence must also tutor Wilson, who moved to d-tackle after four years on the offensive line. He is his brother's keeper.

"Big Craig is doing fine. We work on something new every day. The first day was working on his feet and stance. Then it was shooting hands, keeping the ball on his gap-side shoulder. His next step is learning to get off the block."

The Fort Walton Beach, Florida, native is one of the strongest members of the team. He held the UI power clean record until recently but hopes to get it back.

"I haven't broken my power clean record. I sprained my wrist. (Jay) Prosch has got me right now, so I'm gonna be trying this summer to get that back. I'm letting him know. My record was 377, and he went 382."

Spence has the ability and experience to be one of the Illini's top defenders this year. He is providing necessary leadership as well. Hopefully, the stress of his responsibilities will lead him to bigger and better things.

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