Unassuming Weil Paves the Way

Most fans don't know much about a team's starting fullback. But Illinois' Russ Weil is a blue collar worker who makes life much better for much more publicized feature backs. Even if he doesn't care for attention.

Some football players receive frequent recognition for their play and are known wherever they go. Others toil in obscurity and go unrecognized. One of the most important of these latter players for the University of Illinois football team is senior fullback Russ Weil.

Weil wasn't always an unknown. The Minooka High School fullback/linebacker was an Illinois All-Stater in football. Perhaps even more significant, Russ was a two-time Illinois state champion at 215 pounds in wrestling. Recruited for both sports, he decided to play football at the University of Illinois.

Weil played in 10 games his freshman season at linebacker, starting the last two. He was switched to fullback when Coach Ron Zook arrived on the scene and became the starter at that position each of the past two seasons. Russ has only two career carries for 10 total yards and two pass receptions for 22 yards, but he is an invaluable asset to the offense.

A fullback is not utilized on every play of a spread offense as he is replaced by another receiver in some situations. But his blocking is essential in both the running and passing games. It is the fullback who leads the running back through the hole and takes out the linebacker. And it is often the fullback who is the final line of protection for the quarterback during a pass rush. It is these areas in which Weil excels.

Blocking fullbacks receive few interview opportunities. The best ones sacrifice their personal goals for the team and expect no special recognition. And if Russ Weil is at all typical, they are surprised and almost speechless when someone wants to learn about them. They may even prefer anonymity.

"I guess I enjoy obscurity," says Weil.

But Weil had a brief moment in the spotlight in an earlier spring scrimmage. Injuries depleted the running back position enough that Weil played some running back in a one-back set. And don't think for one minute he was unaware of his statistics on the game.

"Everyone was hurt, so I had to step up and do it for them, I guess. I had eight carries for 44 yards at St. Rita."

Ball carrying, pass receiving, and blocking are all part of Weil's daily chores.

"I like doing it all."

Watching him in practice, it is obvious he enjoys blocking. He explodes into blocking dummies and sends them flying across the field. Those dummies represent linebackers, and it takes a strong and athletic person to take on the top linebackers.

"Yeah, I enjoy hitting the linebackers, especially Brit Miller. He talks a lot of trash with me. The Big 10 is full of good linebackers, so I have a lot of respect for them. You have to give respect to pretty much all of them."

Typical for players who perform all the intangibles on the field, Weil understates his ability as a blocker.

"It's pretty simple. Just block a guy. You read the line and do your job."

If it were that easy to knock All-Americans like former Ohio State linebacker A. J. Hawk backward out of the play, everyone would be doing it.

Weil now weighs around 245 pounds. Does the extra weight help in blocking?

Weil admits he still misses wrestling, but he doesn't regret his decision to drop wrestling for football.

"When I go watch it I miss it. I like to eat, so I would have to cut a lot of weight for wrestling."

Russ has witnessed major changes, including a coaching turnover, in his three years on campus.

"Everyone seems to be bigger, stronger and faster. It's a lot more competitive in practice. That's probably the biggest change I've noticed. There's a lot more confidence now, too. You work hard in the weight room in the offseason, so everyone is definitely a lot more confident."

Many of last year's losses were highly competitive. Didn't those improvements give the team confidence for this upcoming season?

"A loss is still a loss, but we made a lot of strides from the previous season. The closeness of the Ohio State game helps, but it still hurts that we lost. We did build some confidence in those games. We know we can play with them all, it's just a matter of taking the next step."

Russ was not redshirted, so his fourth year will be his last. He agreed the time has gone fast.

"When I first got here, I thought it was going to be a long four years, but it has gone by fast."

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