Frank Lenti, Jr., was a walkon from Chicago Mt. Carmel who earned a scholarship at Illinois as a receiver and holder on placements. The son of the long-time Mt. Carmel coach, Lenti explains his new role with the Illini.
"My title is Production Specialist. We have five guys in the office; it's broken down by sport. I'm responsible for the video for Coach (Ron) Zook's web page. I work on the TV show "The Fighting Illini Insider," and I cut stuff for the Jumbotron, the scoreboard in the Stadium.
"My title doesn't put me in charge of football video, but our boss Andy Young, the Director of Media Services, comes to me with anything football related. For instance, he might ask me for highlights of Whitney Mercilus, who's up for the Lombardi Award. That's my responsibility. I also work with Elizabeth (Gehrt) and the recruiting people for signing day stuff, all the coverage that we do on that."
He describes how he got started with this work.
"I graduated in Speech Communications in May of '07. I had to do an internship for hours to be eligible to play my fifth year. Cassie Arner talked to Andy and Darrell Miles, the assistant director, about getting me set up.
"The first project I worked on was our senior music video for the football banquet. They liked that and the videos I did of the games. From there, we had to do the Rose Bowl DVD. They let me intern through that spring and summer. As the summer progressed, I started looking for jobs back home.
"And then the opportunity presented itself. They said they wanted to do more with our web video, especially with football. They asked if I would be interested I said I would definitely be interested being around the program, working for my alma mater, get to travel. I haven't missed an Illinois football game since we were on the road against Purdue in '03.
"It started as a web video, doing features here and there. It kind of evolved into this whole package. I have definitely taken on more responsibility since I started in August of '08."
Some athletes find it difficult to work with a sport they formerly played. It reminds them of what they are missing. But Lenti has the opposite feeling.
"It's pretty cool. I still get to be around all the guys. One of the things I may like to do in the future is coach.
"People ask if I want to coach college. But if I coach, I'd like to coach high school. They're more raw at that point, and you can develop them a lot more. They might not have bad habits yet. It's something I figured out over the last couple of years, how much I like being around the kids."
It also helps to work for people he likes and respects.
"The people around here are great. You've heard Coach Zook say it a million times, 'People make a place.' I think that's one of the things that makes this job and this place as special as it is."
Lenti videotapes every game, home and away.
"We shoot the games. We have seven cameras at home games, and on the road we have three. So we get pretty good coverage for our football program. We have a lot of stuff to work with when we do highlight videos.
"Of the five guys we have, three of us will travel to all the road games. On home game days, the students shoot because they have to direct and produce the matrix board for the game day environment. I'm the only one of our guys actually shooting on those days."
Many Illini football fans would love the chance to be close to the team. Lenti is living their dream.
"I have sideline access and locker room access. Playing for Coach Zook, he's comfortable with me being around. He trusts that I'm not gonna get in the way.
"At camp, when I shoot the Oklahoma Drill, not too many people are able to get that close because everyone huddles around. He trusts that I won't get myself hurt or get anybody else hurt.
"Same with anything in practice. They're the same practices, same drills. I know what to look for, when I can get in and get maybe a special shot and when I can't. I have a great relationship built up with Coach, so there's a comfort level."
Except for Camp Rantoul, Lenti doesn't videotape daily practices. It is up to students to prepare the cutouts for individual coaches to evaluate daily.
"I don't do anything with team video, like coach's cutups. I'm more on the creative side. The only time I'm shooting practice is at camp, and then maybe for a coach miked-up feature. It's very rare that I'm at practice during the season."
Having played for the Illini during some down years and then helping the team go 9-3 in 2007 and playing in the Rose Bowl, Lenti has a unique perspective on Illini football. He shares memories of his career in part two of this three-part report.