Jack Cornell was a four-star lineman out of Quincy, and he was expected to dominate early at Illinois. It took him a couple years and some weight loss for that to materialize, but he is now a solid fixture on the offensive line.
Cornell is trying to enjoy every minute of his final season, but he admits he's glad Camp Rantoul is over for him.
"When you've been around here five years, you want to get out of Rantoul as fast as possible. This camp was probably the hardest camp I've been a part of both mentally and physically. Everybody on both sides of the ball were flying around and hitting. Fortunately, we were able to escape with minimal injuries. That's always positive when you're going into the season."
"It's a lot of fun to be a part of an offensive line that's been together as long as we have. We're a cohesive unit on and off the field. We're always hanging out off the field, always doing stuff together. I think that's what you need in an offensive line."
Offensive line play requires teamwork; the more they play together, the more they can accomplish.
"No doubt. From the springtime to now, we've obviously played a lot of football together. So we've had a lot of time to come together and mesh. I think we're starting to come together as a unit, and we're having a lot of fun out there. We're trying to get Simon (Cvijanovic) and Mike (Heitz) to come along."
Heitz has played every down as the strongside tackle while Corey Lewis recovers from knee surgery. He and Cornell must function as a team on the strong side, and it appears that combination is working well together.
"No doubt. Mike and I always joke about coming from small schools on the West side of Illinois and holding down the strong side at Illinois. We have a lot of fun with it. He's fun to play next to. I'm just trying to help him out and establish himself in college football. And he's doing everything he can to help me out."
Being in the second year of Paul Petrino's offensive schemes allows for greater understanding and sharper focus on assignments.
"Last year, the first year in the offense, we had some success. This year, we turned it up a notch in preparation, in the meeting rooms, on the field, in the weight room, everywhere.
"I think everybody's really confident in this second year in this offense and second year in this defense. Everybody kind of knows their job that much more and have been able to focus on the techniques specifically for our jobs."
With a talented quarterback and a bevy of running backs and receivers for whom to block, Cornell has many reasons to do his best on the field. He knows his efforts can help them make plays.
"No question. We have our eyes set on some big goals right now. We're gonna do everything we can to accomplish those goals, and we're all really excited to do it."
One of the goals of this preseason was establishing more depth on the line. Will the Illini have adequate replacements when Cornell and Allen complete their eligibility?
"There's a lot of talented guys down there. Next year's a long way away. I think our depth is coming along. We have a lot of young guys right now that are in the two-deep.
"There are three freshmen who are fighting their tails off. You can tell when they first started, their heads were spinning a little bit. But a year in this offense, and they're gonna progress tremendously. They'll be pretty good."
The Illini are off to a great beginning to the 2011 season. This doesn't surprise Cornell, who shares a special vision with his teammates.
"I feel pretty confident right now. We've been working incredibly hard. The leadership's in the right place. I think as long as we keep doing what we're doing right now and keep progressing, we're gonna be pretty good."