Local Talent Looking Good

Fighting Illini football coach Ron Zook is looking throughout the country for top recruits, but he doesn't have to travel far for one outstanding athlete. Champaign Centennial's Mikel Leshoure is drawing rave reviews for his play as a dominant running back.

Leshoure has already created a fine name for himself on the football field, and his senior season promises to be the best year yet for him. But he excels in more than just football.

Mikel has played varsity basketball since his freshman year, and his basketball skills are sufficient enough for him to be named MVP in the junior division of the recent Dust Bowl championships held in Danville recently. He also played with the Indiana Spiece 17-and-under AAU team in a big tournament in Las Vegas.

Mikel is humble about his summer accomplishments.

"I'm just trying to stay busy and out of trouble."

Besides football and basketball, Mikel has also worked with a personal trainer this summer.

"(Former Illini) Doug Kleber was my trainer. It improved my conditioning, speed, and footwork. Everything got a lot stronger and better wrapped up. I am now 6'-1" and 225 pounds."

Any running back must rely on the quality of his teammates to help him reach his potential. What are Centennial's prospects for the upcoming season?

"We're looking real good. Offensively, we have a lot of returning players. We're going to be missing three offensive linemen who were key last season, but we also have some guys who came in and played, so we'll be all right. Our defense should also be pretty good, but we will have a young secondary."

Leshoure was dominant in Illinois' 7 on 7 camp this summer and was clearly the team's best receiver, showing excellent hands and outstanding leaping ability. Will his team throw him the ball more this year?

"The last couple of years, we haven't been much of a passing team because we had a strong offensive line that opened holes for me. So about 85% of our plays were running plays. But now we have a more athletic quarterback with a pretty good arm. So I think we will do a little more passing this year to open things up and keep teams from keying on the run."

Like most of the top running backs, Mikel has his own style.

"I don't really have a running back that I pattern my game after, but I like to watch Larry Johnson a lot. I guess you could say I'm a big guy who can run, and anytime I can get to the corner it's off to the races. I'm a mixture of power and speed, and I like to run both inside and out."

So what schools are in the mix for Leshoure's college services?

I still have five scholarship offers, from Illinois, Kansas, Boston College, Northern Illinois and Missouri. I haven't made any official or unofficial visits yet, so that is why I am still undecided. I really haven't had the chance to look at all my options. UI is the only one where I have been able to see what's going on on the campus. I'm hopeful my senior season will bring in some more offers. I hope it's not over yet as I want to get as many offers as I can get."

Is it possible some schools are reluctant to recruit against Illinois for his services?

"A lot of people think I'm already going to Illinois, and I don't understand where they are getting this from. When people interview me, I talk about Illinois because that's the only school I've actually seen, so perhaps they get the wrong impression. I'm not saying that's the school I want to go to right now. I am just deciding where I will be the most comfortable."

Many Champaign-Urbana residents are hopeful Mikel will choose Illinois, and their constant advice and questioning can be a burden to some. But he doesn't yet feel any extra pressure to attend the local school.

"Regardless of what people want for me, I'm going to make my own decision, me and my family. But I wouldn't say all the people who want me to go here helps. I know if I stay here I will be considered a Home-Town Hero. So I do think about that. I think I could be happy either way.

The future Sports Management major, who might someday like to be a coach, is still figuring out his timetable for a commitment to a college.

"I don't know whether I want to commit before the season or after the season. More than likely, I will take some visits first. Right now, my decision might possibly be after the season."

Whatever school Mikel Leshoure attends, he will no doubt be successful. He's an explosive athlete with the humility and intelligence to match.

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