What the Big Ten means to the community, what the Big Ten means to this country, being a son that's grown up in this profession, it's so, so gratifying to be a head football coach and to be able to see the progress of the Big Ten and what the Big Ten means to college football.
Before I start talking about the Illini, I think something that's very important. I did it last year. I'd like to wish my mother, Pat Beckman, a happy birthday. She always likes these media sessions, too, the Big Ten media, because she's able to come in this afternoon and we get to spend time as a family and that's very, very important. I wanted to make sure that everybody understands that my mother, my rock, it's her birthday and I wanted to wish her a happy birthday.
Let's talk about the Fighting Illini. I guess the word I like to use is anxious. I'm very anxious to see the progress that this football team has made since the first of December. After the Northwestern football game, we came together as a football team. We talked about strides that we needed to make as a family, that we needed to make as a football team, that we needed to make on and off the football field.
I can say this: Those players, since December on up until last week, when we had a football function at my house with supper and if you've read any of the tweet, you probably saw some of the things that we did, but I've seen progress. And I'm excited about that progress.
I'm excited as a head football coach to see a healthy Nathan Scheelhaase; to see a healthy Jonathan Brown, to; see Cory Lewis be involved in his sixth year, which not many people have that opportunity to do, where a game was taken from him and now he has that opportunity to play his sixth year of college football and how important that is for him; to see a Timmy Kynard, a young man that started for us last football season and stepped in and took over the leadership role starting in December.
We lost 400 snaps last year to injury on offense, and we lost 800-plus to injury on defense. You see a healthy football team. You see a team that's very anxious and excited to progress.
One of the things that we talked about also as a group is we're taking one challenge at a time in a very, very positive way. We're not going to let negativity infiltrate our program. We're going to be positive with a great passion towards what we want to get accomplished. And I've seen that through this football team. The credit's gotta go to the senior class and to the football players that we currently have on the program.
And then to end it to have 33 new faces that will be involved in our first two-a-day workout as Fighting Illini. Those young men, 10 of them, they came in during the January month, which is one of the tops in college football. Ten new faces along with the 23 that we had in this summer. Thirty-three new faces. First faces for the orange and blue. We're excited about seeing them progress as football players and human beings, and we're very, very excited about the way and the anxiousness of the way that this program is heading and the direction that it's heading. So we're excited.
The final thing I'd like to stress to the media to understand this is this class, the three that I brought with me, Cory Lewis, Nathan Scheelhaase, and Timmy Kynard, this class, this football team has set new standards academically that no other Illini athlete, football athlete has ever become. We had 51 out of our 91 players that were in winter workouts, 51 of them had over a 3.0. That's progress. That's a jump in the direction that the plan that we have in place is heading. Now we just need to make sure that it correlates on the football field.
We're excited about Southern Illinois and we know right now that's the only thing that we're thinking about as a football team is Southern Illinois University. We're excited and we look forward to two-a-days starting on August 4th and we're excited about going down to Rantoul on August 11th and being a part of that fine, fine tradition that we have here of traveling and going through two-a-days.
I'll open it up for questions. We're excited about being Illini. We're excited about being Fighting Illini.
Q. I know last year Riley O'Toole saw a lot of playing time when Nathan Scheelhaase was injured and struggling at times. What's the quarterback situation going into camp and where does Aaron Bailey fit in this year?
COACH BECKMAN: Right now, Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback. And the greatest thing about college football is you get to compete to play in 12, 13, or 14 football games. And that's the greatest thing that we have going for us.
But Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback right now. He had an outstanding spring in Bill Cubit's new offense.
Riley O'Toole had a good, good spring for us also. But he's got to take away some of those turnovers. Way too many turnovers in the spring football game. He understands that. He's got to be a more sure quarterback in his decision-making so that those types of things don't happen.
Aaron Bailey, hey, I mean, we haven't been able to work with Aaron Bailey. But Aaron Bailey was brought here to compete, and I think he chose the University of Illinois because he knows he's going to be able to compete. So he'll get the exact same opportunity as all of our quarterbacks.
Q. The new targeting rules coming into play this fall, how much is that going to change the game and how your defense will approach the game? And how much should the game be changed to prevent injuries in football?
COACH BECKMAN: Started out with injury, is that what the question was? I'm sorry.
Q. Targeting rules.
COACH BECKMAN: Targeting in college football, you know, all rules are made for the welfare of our student-athletes. And that is one of the things that we feel with the concussion issues, we feel as coaches that needs to be addressed. It's constantly talked about throughout spring football, throughout winter workouts. It will be constantly talked about to our defensive football team. We had the issue last year where we actually had a young man that was taken out of our Penn State football game for that.
So we learned from it. We're still going to be as aggressive as we possibly can with our schemes and doing the things that are necessary to be successful on defense. But the awareness of the fact that targeting is going to be looked at and called more aggressively is something that, again, we have to inform our players and educate our players so that they are not targeting.
Q. Could you please talk about the impact of Bill Cubit both on your team and just personally to you, please?
COACH BECKMAN: Huge. No question about it. I've coached against Bill. I've competed against Bill as a coordinator and as a head football coach.
Bill Cubit, I don't know if words could actually describe what I think he's meant to this staff since he's joined us in January. He's got a great background of being a leader. He's got a great background of calling plays. Probably called a million plays plus in his career.
So bringing that to this program has been outstanding, as all of our coaches, has definitely added to the dimensions of making our football program better.
Q. Where did you come up with the WIN acronym slogan because it's the same one that Northwestern's been using for a few years?
COACH BECKMAN: We've always -- I don't know when Northwestern did. We used that back at Bowling Green defensively. We always did it.
For us, it means whatever's needed, we added today to it. So it's WIN today. Only worry about one thing at a time, that's day-by-day. We're going to do whatever is necessary for us to be successful that day.
If that means being a student and sitting in the first two rows of your class, that's what that means. We're going to make ourselves better as a student, as an athlete, football player, and as a citizen. So that's what the term means for us. To be honest with you, I don't look in to see what other people do. We're just trying to work our things with our football program.
Q. How would you characterize the talent and depth that you inherited when you took the job and where's the program at now in those records?
COACH BECKMAN: You know, again, when we came in, I would say the inherited depth was an issue. I brought that up last year. We've been able to add 33 new faces, as I mentioned.
Does that bring depth? There's no question. We went out and got some junior college football players that brought age to our program. Age, not in the fact that they've played Big Ten football, but they have played some brand of college, even though it's junior college football. It's very important for us to bring age to the program. That's why we signed five. We will have to continually do that in my opinion for the next two to possibly three years, to make sure that we have a balance in our program from senior down to freshman class. So again, we'll be young, but we will be -- and what I've seen since December, a very eager football team and a very eager football team to be better as a family.
Q. I know at times last year when Nathan Scheelhaase struggled, O'Toole came in pretty quickly. How big of a leash do you feel that Scheelhaase is going to have this year and how much room will he have to get through those struggles and what's your faith going in with him as the second season as a head coach?
COACH BECKMAN: Start with Nathan, the first football game, Nathan got dinged a little bit and fought through it and played. And Riley was able to come in. Riley had I believe it was 80 plus plays the year before, so he didn't have a lot of background of being a college quarterback. This last year he had 270 plus plays. So, again, experience, can't ever take away from experience. That's why we play freshmen, because we want them to be able to experience the game of college football. Nothing takes away from the game and learning the game.
So I think Riley has progressed so that, again, through experience, through plays last year, he'll be able to step in and perform better. But, again, as I mentioned before, Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback right now, and I'm proud to have him involved in our football team. As I've stated many, many times, there has -- been in college football my whole life and there's not many Nathan Scheelhaase's out there. He's an exceptional human being.
Q. One thing that Illinois has really done well the last couple of years is win NFL Draft night. I believe they have the most number of Draft picks of any Big Ten team first round in the last five years. What's been the key to preparing the Illini for the next level?
COACH BECKMAN: Being here for a year, we had the opportunity to have four young men drafted. The experiences of being an Illini. I think the fact that we've got so many NFL players that can be involved with our program, the experiences that they can share to a younger current Illini I think have been crucial in the things that I've seen over the last year.
You know, we've hired -- and I'm very strong in hiring former Illini. And being able to have Mike Bellamy involved in your program and Matt Sinclair and Greg Colby, those guys played here. They know what it takes to be professionals on and off the football field, with the great degree they get from Illinois and then have an opportunity to play in the NFL.
I think that all those things are factors in proving that you can get a quality education plus have the opportunity to play on Sunday, which is a dream for any Division I football player.