Youthful Asamoah Ready for Starting Role

Illinois returns four of its five offensive line starters from last season, but there are still major questions to be answered prior to the 2007 season. One position that may have been secured is right guard where sophomore Jon Asamoah has impressed. He visited with toward the end of spring practice.

Offensive line is a concern for the upcoming Illini football season due to inexperience and depth issues. But Jon Asamoah is someone fans should remember because he has a bright future on the line.

Asamoah saw action in 48 plays his freshman season after graduating from Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois. It is highly uncommon for freshmen offensive linemen to receive playing time, but the All-Stater was needed. Fortunately, Asamoah has the athleticism and intelligence to make up for his lack of experience. And he is now penciled in as a likely starter at right guard for this upcoming season.

Asamoah expected to redshirt last season and was surprised he was thrown into the fray at midseason and saw action in five of the last six games. Speaking during spring practice, Jon described the experience.

"It was a whirlwind, man. I just had to adjust. It was a great learning experience as I had to play against some really good players. And I feel like it set me up for this year."

So while there might have been growing pains last fall, the opportunity for playing time has helped transform Asamoah's outlook and given him a confidence boost.

"It really has. I know what it's all about now. So I'm not scared to go out there. I'm more comfortable out there. I am more relaxed and the game has slowed down for me. I feel more comfortable with the guys next to me, trusting each other."

The offensive linemen are adjusting to a new offensive line coach as Eric Wolford replaced Ed Warinner just prior to spring practice. Are there any major differences?

"Yeah, it's really different. It's a different feel. The dynamics of the o-line have really changed over the last year, ever since coach Wolf came in. It feels like more of a family. We're all learning, we're all accepting what's going on, we're all helping each other out more and helping each other get better every day."

Coach Wolford moved the linemen around quite a lot during spring, allowing them to learn each other's responsibilities.

"Yeah, exactly. He expects us all to know every position out there. So at any moment, if someone goes down, you're in there, you're confident, so you are able to handle the situation. I've stayed at the same position the whole spring. I did move from left to right from the season to now. But you are expected to know every position because Coach Wolf will throw you in anywhere at any time if there's a need. There are battles at every spot. Every day the depth chart is changing, so you have to be on your toes."

Coach Wolford also brings all the offensive linemen together after practice for more instruction. What happens in those meetings?

"Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. Trying to make the transition, to take our technique to the game. Until it's comfortable and we can handle what's in front of us, we can dominate up there."

Coach Wolford has a graduate assistant working with him. Mike Degory comes to Illinois after a stellar career at the University of Florida. What does Degory bring to the table?

"Experience. It almost seems sometimes like he is one of us. Like we can really relate to him and really get along with him. Four years at Florida, starting like that, he's the expert. He knows what's going on. He says some little thing to help us out, you accept it and try to take that to the game. You reap the benefits."

When asked about his main asset for the offensive line, the quick and explosive Asamoah was humble in his response.

"My personal athleticism helps me out a great deal when things break down technique wise."

Offensive guards must reach the linebackers, if possible, as part of their blocking responsibilities on many running plays.

"That's where my athleticism helps me out. Sometimes I might take some bad angles, but I can make up for it with my speed. Every day I learn to take better angles to help myself out. I'm just doing a better job, getting better."

Jon was a little undersized for a Big Ten offensive lineman when he was a senior in high school, but no longer.

"I was 265 in high school, but by the time I got on campus it was 285. I've been a steady 300 for awhile now. But I have been able to maintain my mobility. Everything is Coach Lou (Hernandez). Coach Lou keeps me in check man."

The Illini endured a 10-loss season last year, and the pressure to win can overwhelm the unprepared. But Asamoah sees this as a positive.

"That's what we want. I mean nobody expects us to do anything. Who trusts us outside of our own? So we're going to go out there and prove ourselves to people this year. We're going to dominate and prove we're not just this soft group of guys. We want to show we can really play."

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