Jeremy Werner // Illini Inquirer

Illini freshman center Doug Kramer: 'Everyone's going to tell me I'm small, but I kind of let that fuel me'

Illini freshman center Doug Kramer may be the smallest Illini offensive linemen, but he's also making a case that he may be one of the best five

Lovie Smith dismisses dubbing 6-foot-2, 270-pound redshirt freshman Doug Kramer as "undersized."

"We don't use that term," Smith said. "Undersized doesn't mean a lot to us. Size is one of the most overrated things there is. Strength isn't. Our guys are all strong. Doug has great quickness, and he's definitely performed well since he's gotten here really."

Kramer doesn't use his less-than-ideal Big Ten frame as an excuse either.

"I have a huge chip on my shoulder because I'm undersized obviously," Kramer said. "Everyone's going to tell me I'm small, but I kind of let that fuel me."

Kramer, a Hinsdale Central product, looks at a trio of brothers from Hinsdale Central as proof that size shouldn't hold him back. At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds, Jack Allen was a four-year starter at Michigan State and earned First-Team AP All-America honors as a senior. Brian Allen (6-2, 304) enters his junior seasons at Michigan State with back-to-back All-Big Ten Second Team honors, while youngest brother Matt Allen (6-3, 290) is expected to make an impact for the Spartans next season. Kramer played with both Brian and Matt Allen.

"Obviously, they're both great players, good friends too," Kramer said. "I looked at both of them and they were just nasty. That's the biggest thing I've taken from them, just finishing people every single play. No matter if you're winning or losing, every single play, you have to just play nasty and play mean." Kramer quickly has exceeded early expectations at Illinois. He committed to former Illini coach Bill Cubit in January 2016 as a grayshirt and planned to arrive on campus in January 2017. But Smith invited him to join the team in early August when a scholarship opened just two days before fall training camp began.

"It was a really quick transition, but it was nothing I couldn't handle," Kramer said. "I came here and started working hard."

Kramer performed well during fall training camp, holding his own against a talented illini defensive line. He traveled with the team this season but never played in a game, preserving his redshirt.

With three-year starting center Joe Spencer graduated, Kramer has an even larger opportunity this spring. Junior Nick Allegretti, who started at guard last season, has repped at starting center. But Kramer also has received a lot of first-team center reps, shifting Allegretti to guard (where sophomore Darta Lee is rotating between the first- and second strings). The Illini are looking for the best five, and Allegretti's versatility gives Kramer a shot to start.

"Obviously, it's an awesome opportunity," Kramer said. "I'm just trying to make the most of every snap, go as hard as I possibly can, focus on technique, focus on my assignment and everything will work out."

Kramer may be one of the smaller Illinois offensive linemen, but he's making a case that he still may be one of the best five.

"You got to play with great leverage," Kramer said. "You have to play with great enthusiasm. You got to be willing to give up your body and sell out. That's a lot of things I focus on when I'm out here. There's going to be people who tell you you're too small, but it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is focusing on your technique and working hard. Every time I'm in the building, I just try to work as hard as I can."

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