Derek Dimke Emotional As Senior Day Arrives

Last year, the Fighting Illini football team reached field goal range 29 times. Placekicker Derek Dimke converted 24 kicks and expected similar success in 2011. But he hasn't had nearly the opportunities this year. He wishes he could have done more to help the team, and he regrets how rapidly his career is coming to an end.

Derek Dimke has two more regular season games as an Illinois placekicker.

"It's gone fast."

Does he wish he had another year of eligibility?

"Absolutely. Rejus (Benn) talked to us, and he said he'd trade any game he had in the pros to come back and be with us. It's been an honor to play here, so I want it to last as long as I can."

,P>Dimke will be feted in Senior Day festivities Saturday in Memorial Stadium, his last home game. It is a difficult time for all seniors.

"I have a lot of emotions right now. I'm trying not to worry about me, I'm trying to worry about the team and everything I can do to help the team. I'll worry about the emotions after the game."

The Rockford native lives closer to the University of Wisconsin, Saturday's opponent, than Champaign-Urbana. But he always preferred his home state school.

"I never really talked to Wisconsin. I was an Illinois fan growing up. Illinois and Bears, not the Packers. They had a kicker that was there already, and I wanted to come here anyway. So I was fortunate and very blessed to go to the school I wanted to go to."

Last year, Dimke was an impressive 24 for 29 in field goals and looked forward to an outstanding senior season. His percentage of success is high (7 of 8), but his numbers are way down.

"My leg's well rested. Having 8 this year is a change, but as long as we're getting wins like we were at the beginning of the year, I don't care how many field goals I have."

His only miss was a last second effort that hit the upright at Penn State. The kick would have sent the game to overtime. He took that loss especially hard, but like his teammates, he must continue to remain confident and fight for wins.

"We're all just trying to trust, trust the process. I honestly think we're thinking about it too much, what happens here, what happens there. We've just got to go out and play.

"Arizona State was a top 20 team, and we just came out and played and had fun. We're getting away from that a little bit. We're trying to get back to having fun."

Dimke has improved his leg strength during his four years on campus.

"I've been working with the training staff and weight lifting staff. They do a wonderful job of keeping us in shape."

Strength alone is not the answer. Flexibility must be maintained at all costs. He has learned to balance the two.

"I try to stretch in the morning and at night before warmup. All the credit goes to the strength staff and the training staff. They tell me what to do; I just do it. They keep me feeling good."

His leg began to tire at times in the past. It's his natural tendency to kick more, not less.

"When you're out here and you've got all your teammates out here, you just want to kick to keep getting better.

He found out the hard way he was making things worse than better with excessive kicking. He eventually learned to take better care of his leg.

"All the coaches are doing a nice job of monitoring how much we do so we won't kick our legs out. Kicking every day is not as taxing as what these guys do, but it's like a pitcher throwing every day. Your legs are tired after awhile.

"I'm on a kick count. I make sure my warmups are limited. Once I'm done kicking with the team, I'm through for that day. I try not to do too much kicking. It's amazing what you can do with your leg feeling a little more fresh."

Dimke also kicks off, which turns him into a tackler. He is athletic enough to help, saving a couple possible kickoff return touchdowns the last two seasons.

"I'm just trying to the best I can and help the kickoff coverage guys as they go down and make the play. I am willing to go down and make the tackle. Hopefully I don't have to, but I have shoulder pads on too. I can. I think I had 5 or 6 tackles last year. It's a stat you don't want to keep track of as a kicker."

He has four more so far this year. Opponents have tried to shake him by calling timeouts to psych him before field goals. Last year in Wrigley Field, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called three consecutive timeouts before halftime, but Dimke defied the strategy by splitting the uprights.

"I just try to focus on my job and hold my mind on the team. I really don't think about the situation. You can't think too outside of where you are at the time."

While he would love to play pro ball, opportunities are limited. His focus now is his Illinois team.

"I'm not even contemplating it until this season's done. We've got a lot of work to do this season first."

Dimke is a Finance major and will graduate May 2012.

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