Denmark Hopes To Make Mark At MIKE

Talented athletes can play a variety of positions on a football team. The problem is finding their best position and then learning it well enough to help the team. Fighting Illini sophomore Brandon Denmark changed positions from defensive end to middle linebacker at the end of last season, and now he is learning to embrace the position.

Brandon Denmark came to Illinois as a Bandit candidate. He played outside linebacker and end at James Rickards High School in Tallahassee, Florida, and Bandit is a combination of those two positions.

Denmark was good enough to see playing time as a true freshman, but there was need for more depth at middle linebacker. He was moved to MIKE at the end of the season and saw playing time there in the Texas Bowl. It was a big transition.

"It was a little different. I was coming off the edge, making a move and getting to the quarterback. Being in the middle, I've got to come downhill a lot more, I've got to read a lot more. It's a little harder, but I'm starting to get a little more focused about it."

The 6'-4", 225 pounder has the height Illini coaches like at the position, and he has excellent speed, which he finds especially useful.

"Coming downhill, bringing that speed to get the tackle. It helps me. I'm gonna have a lot of head-on tackles. I think that's gonna be a real big impact for me."

Denmark is uncommonly honest about recognizing his biggest problem on the field.

"I'd say continuing to run during the play. When I mess up, I kind of slow down a little bit and eat some humble pie a little bit. But I've got to keep going and keep my feet moving all the time."

He has a good role model at the position. Fifth year senior Ian Thomas starts, and he has a wealth of information to share with his replacement.

"Him being an older upperclassmen, I've really learned a lot from him to add to my game."

Some question the decision to play a freshman like Denmark when he sees only mop-up duty at the end of games. But he feels that experience has been vital in preparing him for this year.

"Yes sir, I'm a lot more confident. Making a couple plays in the bowl really boosted me up a little bit. When I get on the field, I'm not as nervous or upset. I'm more comfortable with myself. I'm getting better at that."

Denmark still has a lot to learn. But every once in awhile, he makes a play that demonstrates his enormous potential. In one controlled spring scrimmage, he caught an interception and flashed his speed heading toward paydirt.

"It felt really good. I was gonna run all the way to the end zone, but I had to turn around to get to the next play."

He is excited about the potential of the Illini defense in 2011.

"I think we're coming along real good. We lost some good people. Our linebacker group is real young other than Ian. We're learning real fast and real well, so hopefully once the season comes around we'll have everything down pat. Then it will be automatic for us.

"I'm really looking forward to our defense. I think we're ready to show the world what we can do."

As for his own progress, Denmark is anxious to self-actualize.

"I'm ready to go to the top. Whatever is the top, that's where I want to be. I'm learning, I'm getting better and better. I'm starting to break on the ball faster. I'm just ready for this season to kick off."

Of course, he also has academic goals.

"My major is undecided. I'm kind of looking toward Computer Engineering. I like technology, so I try to learn a little bit about that."

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