A Step up on Saturday

The Illini practiced in pads for the first time Saturday, in front of junior prospects and dozens of other onlookers.

CHAMPAIGN - The Fighting Illini football team donned pads in practice for the first time in spring drills Saturday, mixing it up for over two hours in front of the public and a slew of recruits.

The team got after it in full contact, one-on-one drills in front of over 100 junior prospects and dozens of other onlookers as coach Tim Beckman opened the doors to the public for the first of four open practices.

"Happy with the type of attitude the guys came out with for the first day in pads," Beckman said. "We're gonna practice physical. It hasn't changed, but we're just expecting more. It's got to be done to get up moving forward one step at a time."

Potential players on the sideline watching current players compete to get better, the scene symbolized what Beckman and his staff preached during the offseason -- the past doesn't matter; the only option is to get better for the future.

"Yeah I think in any case that's one of the things that we're talking about, how we can control ourselves," Beckman said. "That's the only thing we can control. I'm happy with the way that they're coming out.

"The happening stuff is in the past. We're only worried about today and getting better on this practice field. Tomorrow we'll worry about watching the film, the kids get off Sunday. Monday we'll be back out here."

Beckman's first season ended with disappointing results, a 2-10 record in 2012 with numerous lop-sided losses. The offseason brought fought turnover, with five changes made to the staff. Spring practice started with bad news, as wideout Darius Millines was suspended, offensive line coach Jim Bridge left for Purdue, and it was revealed kicker Nick Immekus quit the team in the offseason.

Through all that, for the players that are in Champaign and practicing, spring represents a chance to move forward.

"Obviously last season didn't go the way we wanted it to," quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. "Winter workouts and spring ball are really the first two big steps that you can take in the right direction. That's what we're out here trying to do, trying to improve as much as possible in 15 practices. We've got to be feeling great about what we're doing."

Scheelhaase pointed to leadership as a main area of improvement since the conclusion of 2012 and said he and others are holding themselves more accountable. A group of at least 20 players meet on a weekly basis to discuss the upcoming schedule of events and make sure the leadership continues to progress.

"It's been a huge focus, bigger than any x or o, bench press or squat, just leadership and our plan of attack so our season can be what we want it to be," he said.

The Illini have 12 more practices remaining, the next scheduled for Monday afternoon. The annual spring game will be held Friday, April 12, under the lights in Memorial Stadium.

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