Walkon Jake Kumerow Rising To Occasion

The Fighting Illini football team has always utilized walkons. Over the years, a number have made big plays and helped the team, earning scholarships. Redshirt freshman Jake Kumerow decided to wak on last fall, and he became one of the favorite receiver targets this spring.

Jake Kumerow explains why he decided to try out for the Illinois football team without benefit of a scholarship.

"The reason I came to Illinois was I knew Ron Zook was a great coach, and Illinois is a great atmosphere. It's my home state, so I figured, 'Why not?'

"I didn't have too many opportunities to go a lot of places. I had a few D-3 schools talking to me. A couple other Big 10 schools offered me preferred walkon spots, but nothing too much. So I figured I'd try here."

There is no stigma attached to walkon status at the UI.

"Being a walkon here is fine. You're treated just the same as everybody else. You just play football."

Kumerow comes from excellent bloodlines. His father Eric was a linebacker at Ohio State and played in the NFL. Was there any pressure to perform growing up?

"When I was growing up, it was real cool having my dad. Anything I ever needed to know, he obviously had the answers. He didn't try too hard to get me to be a player, or do this or do that. He let me do my thing, and I've loved the game ever since."

The younger Kumerow weighs around 190, so he is not built like a linebacker.

I'm about 6 foot 4 and a half. My dad was 6'-7". I hope to fill out like him. So does he. I'm a little leaner, but I could probably put on some more pounds."

Kumerow knew he would be redshirting last fall, and he took advantage of it.

"It was fun. I played on the scout team, and I got to show my stuff. I got to do my own thing. And I got a lot bigger, a lot stronger and a lot faster. It was good to have a redshirt year. You get to learn a lot of things."

He impressed Illini coaches during fall drills and was rewarded with the Scout team award for offense.

"It felt great. I worked really hard for it."

Kumerow continued to work hard over the winter, and he got a big chance to show what he could do this spring when A.J. Jenkins, Darius Millines and later Fred Sykes sat out with injuries.

"Yes I am. With A.J. out, I'm getting a lot of reps at the Z spot. That's how it goes."

Playing mostly second team, he appeared to be favored this spring by quarterback Miles Osei.

"Miles is a good quarterback. He looks around and sees options. If I'm open, he'll throw to me."

Receiver coach Paul Petrino took note of his rookie.

"Jake's made some plays. Jake's done a good job and done some nice things."

Kumerow is grateful to have Petrino as his coach.

"He's a fiery guy. I'm actually very glad to have him, very pleased to be able to be coached by him. He's a great guy, great coach. He's trying to get me better. I'm glad that he's my coach."

The Elgin High School graduate appreciated how well quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Osei went through their progressions this spring. Their experience and maturity helped.

"Definitely. They're more calm, they know the offense better. They can look through more routes, so they can make the right pass."

Kumerow is excited about the potential of the offense in 2011.

"I think the offense is coming along great. Our quarterbacks are improving, a lot of receivers are improving and making more plays than we did last year."

While he couldn't play in the game, getting to share a bowl experience with his teammates was a highlight of his first year on campus.

"Texas Bowl was awesome. It was the chance of a lifetime. It was a lot of fun. I got to go to Texas; I'd never been there. Being in a big NFL arena in Houston was awesome."

As many other Illini players have stated, Kumerow believes that bowl can be a stepping stone.

"The Texas Bowl definitely made us hungrier. To see that we could actually get to a bowl game and see what we could do if we played to our fullest extent, now we know we can do anything or beat anyone. We're gonna try to get to a bigger bowl this year."

It remains to be seen how much playing time Kumerow will earn this fall. But he made a definite positive impression on Illini coaches this spring. Head coach Ron Zook took special note.

"Jake Kumerow is getting better and better. He made a heck of a play on an interception, came back and made a tackle."

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