Tim Salem Needs More Bodies This Spring

The Fighting Illini football program has minimal running back depth this spring. And what it has is young and lacks experience. Running back coach Tim Salem has his work cut out for him to make his position one of strength by fall. In part two of a four-part interview, Salem talks about his returnees and new signees.

Tim Salem played college ball, and he has coached multiple positions. He is the running back coach at Illinois, and a lack of depth makes him ponder an extreme alternative, tongue in cheek.

"I did check with the NCAA last week, and I do not have any eligibility left. So I can't be out there for spring ball. I wasn't a running back in college, but I might have to be one this year with our lack of depth.

"There's not many backs in the program here. We've got the Three Stooges; there's three of them. Or, Manny, Moe and Jack from the Pep Boys."

Salem likes to be humorous, but he cares about his returnees. Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson and Ean Days are the only scholarship running backs available for spring ball. Young hasn't practiced yet due to issues with his foot. Ferguson redshirted last fall, and Days is a redshirt sophomore with no game experience.

"Only one of them really got any playing time last year. D.Y. from the great state of Texas, he's the only guy that really got any carries. And then you've got Josh Ferguson, who came in and did well in the month of August. But then he got an injury that lingered and slowed him down. So he got little to no playing time. And the same thing with Ean Days."

Salem is not throwing in the towel. In fact, he likes a good challenge.

"You talk about experience, we don't have a running back with 500 carries and three years of playing time. That's somewhat the service part of coaching, but also the exciting part of coaching. We can watch these individuals grow up, get their chance and do something with it.

"That's always fun and fascinating, to see somebody progressing and moving forward. 'I didn't think you could do it that quick. Good for you.' That's the one joy you get out of coaching, watching these young men go from young to old."

Regardless what happens this spring, Salem needs one or more of his entering freshmen to develop quickly this fall. Devin Church, Lakeith Walls and Dami Ayoola all have the ability to help.

"Somebody is going to get hurt, so we have to use one or more of the new signees. I'm still communicating with those three recruits, sending them information, talking to them on the phone and sending Facebook messages.

"You just think, by the law of averages, one of those guys must be counted upon. It might be middle of October, or it might be the first game of the season."

Salem prefers talking about them as a group instead of individually, but it is obvious he thinks highly of them.

"All three are very good people. You always like to think you recruit good kids, but some kids are better than other kids. These are good individuals.

"So we are not dealing with kids you hope will mature quickly. They're pretty mature for their ages and already had some substance to them as individuals and people. So it's a very good starting point to move forward from.

"And then they all have some talent. They've all played and competed at bigger programs, have won track events and played football games.

"They've all been involved with programs that know what it takes to do it right and win. Those values, along with their talent, will help them have chances to stamp their name on the program before they leave here."

Will Church be used more in the slot than as a pure running back?

"That's yet to be determined. He has the talent to do both. I'm sure Billy Gonzales and I will be having fistfights over the summer because of him. He's very quick, has a lightning change of direction, has speed and burst. I'm excited to have him here. And he's from a Brother Rice program in greater Detroit this very prestigious.

"It's one of those programs, just like Dami at St. Thomas Aquinas, those kids just kind of think football 25 hours a day, eight days a week, 13 months a year. That's kind of the football mentality of those places. They know what it takes to go through and win."

Salem talks about his role as special teams coordinator in parts 3 and 4 of this interview.

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