Illini Gridiron Practice Report #5

The Fighting Illini had their first full squad practice on Wednesday afternoon in Rantoul in front of a large crowd of fans, media members, and even Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther. Read more on the Illini's practice in this update from the University of Illinois.

This story is courtesy the University of Illinois
Rantoul, IL - The Fighting Illini football squad entertained a large crowd in the team's first full squad practice. Both fans and an onslaught of media made the trip to Camp Rantoul to watch the spirited practice. The heat wasn't enough to keep University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman and Director of Athletics Ron Guenther from getting a first -hand look at the squad under the direction of Coach Ron Zook and his staff. Coach Zook was once again pleased with the day-to-day improvement his team has made early in camp.

"We had the whole team together for the first time this afternoon and I thought that we got better," Zook said following practice. "We have to continue to improve with each practice and we have to continue to fight through things. There are a lot of things that we demand perfection out of our players. Sometimes the players want to come out and go through the motions but we're not going to let them do it. We are going to push them to be the best they can be and they ‘re responding. You draw that line in the sand and you have to have the energy to stand with it. I think the staff and the players have the energy and we're going to do it. These guys want to be successful and they're going to do it well. It's hot and there are a lot of things going through the players' heads. We're demanding that they do it fast, hard and perfect. If you demand perfection you may not get it but you'll get it at a level that everyone is happy with. I saw a lot of fans here sticking it out through the heat and that's great. This is their program. It's an honor and a privilege for us to be here. This is their program and it's our job to make them proud of their program."

Ask any defensive lineman which position works the hardest on the team and they'll be quick to proclaim that it's them. This year's line is out to prove that they will be a force and they are focused on letting people know not to over look them. The defensive line lost a solid talent in defensive end Mike O'Brien to graduation but it will be anchored on the ends by sophomore Xavier Fulton and redshirt-freshman Derek Walker. Fulton played in eight games and started three as a true freshman. Both Fulton and Walker will use athleticism and speed to rush the passer off the end. Senior Scott Moss also returns and will once again be a contributor for the Illini. In 32 career games, Moss recorded 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for a total of 34 yards lost. Another senior on the defensive front is Ryan Matha at tackle. Matha's six-foot-three, 300 pound frame stuffs the inside run. Matha recorded 34 of his 69 career tackles in 2004. Opposite Matha at the other tackle spot is sophomore Chris Norwell. Norwell earned Freshman All-America honors by and was also named to The Sporting News' Freshman All-Big Ten team. Norwell had 40 stops and two tackles for loss in his rookie campaign.

Defensive Line Coach Tom Simms
We are progressing and we are giving consistent effort which pleases me. Whenever you give effort and play hard there will be improvement. The goal is to improve a little bit every day and we'll be ready when the season comes."
Senior Defensive Tackle Ryan Matha
"Right now everyone is really positive. Coach Simms and Coach Cullen are working us real hard. After individual drills we stop for a minute and take a look at the rest of field and we feel that nobody is working harder than us. We're getting better, we're fighting and playing good football but there is also room for improvement."
Redshirt-Freshman Defensive End Derek Walker
"We're working hard. The entire unit is busting their butts. I think we're sharp and we play hard. I think we still have room to come together and bond as a team but once we do, we'll be very good."

Sound Clips from
  • Post Practice with Coach Ron Zook
  • Defensive Lineman Ryan Matha

  • Fan Appreciation Day: The annual Fan Appreciation Day will be held Sunday, Aug. 21 at Memorial Stadium. The fun for fans begins at 3 p.m., when they have a chance to take pictures, get autographs and throw the football with their favorite Illini players. Admission is free to the general public and parking is available in the North lots of Assembly Hall. Fans can come into the Stadium through the south horseshoe entrance.

    Upcoming Schedule: With practice #5 in the books, the Illini will begin two-a-day workouts Thursday with the first practice in shorts and shoulder pads at 8:05a.m. The Illini will continue practice at 6:30 p.m. in full pads. The Orange and Blue will have a single practice at 3:30 on Friday before the annual Camp Rantoul scrimmage, Saturday, Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Rantoul High School.

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