Illinois Football Heats Up

The Illinois football team got a dose of the hot weather in its only session Tuesday. The squad went over two hours with a combination of individual, 7-on-7 and teamwork. In addition to the single practice of the day, the Illini were treated to a guest speaker who knew the true meaning of teamwork. The team was riveted for over an hour with stories of combat and deployment after the 9/11 crisis.

After dinner, the Illinois team was introduced to Navy Fighter Pilot Commander Stan "Spider" Jones. Jones was a defensive back at the University of Tennessee, playing under Illinois head coach Ron Zook during his time as a Vol. He graduated from UT with a degree in industrial engineering, but is celebrating his 15th year in the Navy flying F-18's.

He spoke to the players on the correlations of collegiate football and the U.S. Military, while reflecting on the lessons carried over from one to another. One resounding theme occurred. In football, one mistake can cost a team a victory. In war, one mistake can cost lives. The passion Jones feels for his career as a pilot is one that the Illinois team can relate to as a college football player. The military and football instill discipline and teamwork. Each difficult and intense flight instruction taught cadets how to deal with stress and decision-making.

Jones graduated flight school with one of the most successful classes in the school's 50-year history, but credits the groups' ability to carry one another through the tough times with the feat. Each task, including ones that seemed as meaningless as learning marches, were designed to accomplish something. And the parallels with college football continued.

"To be successful at anything in live, it takes passion and self-motivation," Jones said. "What sacrifice are these guys wiling to make?"

The goal of the offseason was to increase depth, strength and speed in the defensive line. Through 11 practices in Camp Rantoul, defensive coordinator Vince Okruch and defensive line coach Tom Sims can agree they have done just that. The squad returned three starters from a year ago, but the line has still undergone a bit of a facelift. Sophomore end Derek Walker and junior defensive tackle Chris Norwell anchor their starting spots from a year ago, but two other positions remain in competition. Sophomore Sirod Williams and junior Xavier Fulton shared the role at the other end position, but with both players moved inside, the starting spot looks to be vied for by sophomores Doug Pilcher and Will Davis. Senior Josh Norris has been taking most the snaps at defensive tackle, but has other nipping at his heels.

Defensive line coach Tom Sims
On the defensive line's progress: "I'm pleased with my guys across the board right now. But we've got a long way to go and a lot of improvements to make to get where we want to be."

On rotating multiple players throughout games: "If more guys step up and show that they can help us, they're going to get the chance to play."

Sophomore defensive end Will Davis
On his first training camp at defensive end: "It's going great. I get a chance to use my speed off the edge. I'm learning a lot and I'm going to be ready to go."

On why he was switched to defensive end: "The coaches saw my agility and my speed and they thought it would be better used on the pass rush. I played a lot of defensive end in high school, so I had no problem going over there. It was kind of like my home already."

Sophomore defensive end Derek Walker
On the changes in the defensive line group: "We're a lot faster with the new guys. We've got a lot of speed guys, especially at end. A lot of the freshmen have the speed rush mentality, which is good because we need it. We're also bringing the power in because the tackles are getting stronger."

On moving a number of players between tackle and end: "We're just trying to find a place to play. Some guys excel at one place and some guys don't, so we're just mish-mashing pieces to see who can play where."

Courtesy of U of I SID

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