Bud Golden has suffered a few nagging injuries in his two seasons on campus, but he will likely go into Camp Rantoul healthy and ready to provide competition at running back. He has made himself into a viable candidate at the position.
"Yeah, I believe so. I feel a lot more comfortable with the system now. I'm smarter football-wise. I know what's going on and know what the coaches want, where we're supposed to go."
He has benefitted from the tutelage of running back coach DeAndre Smith.
"He really broke it down on what's going on. Before coming out to practice every day, he makes sure we know what we're doing and what's going on."
Golden isn't the fastest back on the team, but he combines running knowledge with an aggressive style. He doesn't mind running over people.
"That's just off season workouts. Coach Lou (Hernandez) had us working pretty hard this off season. I got bigger and stronger."
Golden is a team-first player. All he cares about his helping the team win. When he, Jason Ford and Troy Pollard all missed time this spring with minor injuries, fullback Jay Prosch saw time at running back. What does he think of the extra competition?
"Prosch is pretty good. It's surprising. He knows the offense. I think the way the coach has taught us, each of us can play any position."
The Cincinnati Sycamore product accumulated no statistics in the Texas Bowl, but he enjoyed the trip and especially the win over Baylor.
"It was nice to even make it to the bowl game, but winning the bowl game is really nice. I felt great going back home and everybody had seen the game.
"The Texas Bowl game gave us a lot of confidence. It's the start of the 2011 season. I think we'll be pretty good. We feel like we can win the Big 10 this year."
Golden is not the boastful sort. It may surprise some to think of the Illini in the Big 10 championship race, but the Communcations major defends his position well.
"Our defense is looking real good. I think they're gonna be one of the top defenses in the Big 10. And the offense, with the coaches we have and the players we have, I think we're gonna be a top team in the Big 10 this year."
Illinois head coach Ron Zook sees potential in his young running back. He is convinced Golden hasn't reached his peak yet.
"I go back to his freshman year, to that last scrimmage in Camp Rantoul. Bud's got a chance. Everybody's light comes on at a different time. Bud understands that this is an opportunity that his light can come on. There's no reason Bud shouldn't be a big part in this thing for us."