Austin Teitsma seems to have been born with a smile on his face. He is as gregarious as any Illinois football player and has a good word for everyone. Fortunately, he is beginning to gain credibility as he improves his own game.
"Things are definitely improving. I'm getting a lot more reps out here."
He didn't see much time at defensive tackle during the 2011 season, but his time on the field helped slow the game down for him and boosted his confidence.
"I got to do a lot on special teams last year, so that was great. Just to get out there gives you more confidence. I know I can play with these guys."
Teitsma has struggled gaining weight due to his high metabolism. He is up to 270, still light for a defensive tackle, but he's noticed a big improvement with the extra weight.
"It's definitely helping me. I feel a lot stronger in there. When I'd get double-teamed at 265 or 260, I'd really get pushed around. It's only 5 to 10 pounds, but it makes a huge difference."
The Glenbard South product credits new Strength & Conditioning coach Aaron Hillmann and his staff for his improved strength.
"These new strength coaches are terrific. They are awesome. We were doing a lot more Olympic lifts, and now we're doing more fundamentals. We're starting off with the basics and doing everything perfect. I've been feeling stronger, so it's been working."
Illini coaches stated during the spring that defensive tackle depth was improved. Teitsma was uplifted when he heard about it.
He has earned some trust with improved play.
"I am getting more confident, and I'm working on my pad level. And I feel like I'm a little bit quicker and stronger. My wrestling background really helps me. I can feel their weaknesses. And it's great for things like hand movements."
Teitsma and his mates have the advantage of retaining their defensive line coach Keith Gilmore after the changeover.
"I've still got Coach Gilmore, which is awesome. He is the best. He's a great Christian man, and he's a great leader and coach. It definitely helps to have continuity."
He also praises new defensive coordinator Tim Banks.
"Coach Banks is great, I'm loving him. I love his scheme."
Needless to say, he has good words for new head coach Tim Beckman.
"Coach Beckman is awesome. He's very family oriented, and we're having a lot of fun out here, which is great. It has been a pretty easy transition. He's been great with us."
Teitsma sees his role during practices to help prepare the Illinois offensive line by going against top competition.
"I'm trying to work them as hard as I can, give them as good looks as possible."
He singles out three interior offensive linemen for special merit.
"Hugh Thornton for sure. Teddy (Karras) has been doing great. Graham (Pocic) has always been fantastic."
He agrees the whole Illini team benefitted from beating UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Confidence is high.
"It definitely helped us to go to the bowl game and win. It helped us out of a low spot. I loved it. It was great to be part of this team. They're all great guys."
Is there any doubt Teitsma sees a bright 2012 for the Illini?
"I'm really excited about this year. I can't wait to see what happens."