Leman Leaves a Lofty Legacy

Illinois middle linebacker J. Leman has been a model student-athlete in his four years in college. He has played hard, played well, inspired and impressed. And as his playing days wind to an end with what he hopes is break through season for the Illini, J. thinks about his legacy.

J. Leman wants to be remembered by Illinois fans ten years from now.

Not necessarily from his individual accomplishments though there likely will be a number of such accolades this year for the Big Ten's leading tackler in 2006.

Individual glory aside, Leman wants to be remembered as one of the leaders from the '07 Illinois football team that helped turn the corner for the program. And for that to happen, Leman says Illinois needs to make it to a post-season bowl game this year.

"Anything less than a bowl game will be a disappointment, no question," the three-year starter at middle linebacker said. "After what we've been through the last couple of years, it will definitely be a disappointment if we're not playing in a bowl game at the end of the year.

"I'm not that concerned about individual awards and honors. My number one goal ever since I've been here is to really help turn the program around. That's first and foremost. We want to look back five, ten years down the road and have people say that we were a big part in helping turn the program around. The seniors last year and the class before them, helped lay a great foundation for the program. Now it's up to us to steer it in the right direction towards an eventual Big Ten championship."

Strong words about a team that has only won four times in the last two years. But Leman isn't about to let the past records obscure his vision for success this fall. He's the leader of a defense that returns nine starters from a year ago when the Illini lost four games by a touchdown or less and another four contests by 10-14 points, en route to a 2-10 season.

The 6-2, 240-pounder from Champaign (Central H.S.) recorded a league-best 152 tackles in 2006, an average of 12.7 per game which ranked as the third highest average among all Division 1 schools. With 19 tackles against No. 1 rated Ohio State and 22 total stops in the season finale at Northwestern, Leman will be among this year's contenders for the Butkus Award, presented annually to the nation's top linebacker.

He's already recognized as one of the league's best at the middle backer spot, having earned first team honors as selected by the media and a second team berth by the coaches last year.

This year, Leman and his defensive teammates have some scores to settle with a couple conference members, a payback to several teams that won close affairs over the Illini a year ago.

"Any time you lose, you want to beat that team the next time you play them," he said. You can call it revenge, but it's bigger than that. It's more about bringing this program back up to its rightful place.

"We lost a bunch of close games last year and some others that were even closer than what the score shows. I think we were finding out that we could compete in the Big 10 and maybe we surprised ourselves sometimes. We just didn't know how to finish games last year if we were up on someone in the third or fourth quarter. That's what's going to be different this year.

"We know…we already know going in that we can compete. It's just a matter of us executing on the field."

Do that this year and people will remember the '07 Illini team ten years from now for more positive thoughts compared to what's happened the last couple of years in Champaign.

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