Leaner, More Fit Juice Sharpening His Game

The Fighting Illini football team earned its stripes last year, and it figures to be even better this year. There is talent at every position, but probably the biggest reason for enthusiasm is the continued improvement of quarterback Juice Williams.

The Chicago Vocational junior improved his pass completion percentage from 39.5 as a freshman to 57.3 as a sophomore. And he improved his rushing totals, going for 755 yards and seven touchdowns this past season. Most exciting of all was the way he controlled the Ohio State game to help pull out a major upset. Predictably, his confidence is soaring.

"It's just something you do when you've been around for awhile. You learn little key things like how to make plays. The longer I'm here, the more confident I will be. I took a shot early last season against Missouri, and that got me scared, taking my eyes off the ball, not looking upfield. But I overcame that fear and just let it go and let it happen. I kept a smile on my face, and it really paid off."

Juice is in outstanding shape, looking more slender despite gaining 10 pounds in winter conditioning.

"Coach Lou has done a great job with us in the weight room on strength and quickness, so physically I think I'm ready. I actually toned up. I'm now 232. Last year I was like 222. I slimmed up because it's all lean. That wasn't intentional, that's just the way it worked. Eating right, lifting weights, and staying healthy."

Williams has come a long way since he was a wide-eyed freshman, but there's alway more to do.

"Just the basic fundamentals. Little things like footwork and keeping your arm up, not letting the play call run out. Just perfecting everything.

"I can see a change out here with spring ball. Going into the bowl game, we had 18 practices, so that was a benefit. I'm knocking the rust off out here and seeing some of the mistakes I made last year, so I see myself being much better."

Coach Ron Zook tells Juice that being a starting quarterback in the Big Ten is not just a job, it's a way of life. He wants Juice to take on more of a leadership role now as an upperclassman.

"I've been more of a leader by example. I haven't been a vocal leader in grade school and high school. I just wanted to make plays and let guys see that and feed off that. But definitely in college I have to be a more vocal leader."

Williams disagrees with those who think the Illini's offensive success this year depends primarily on his passing skill.

"There's a lot more to this game than my arm and ability to throw the ball down the field. You've got the running backs, the protection up front, so there's a lot going on. But definitely there's going to be a big responsibility on my shoulders this year."

He does agree that the more his passing improves, the better the offense will be.

"Yes, I would definitely say that. We've got to do a lot better than we did last year. We did some good things toward the end of the season, but I want to start off like that to set up the rest of the season."

With only two quarterbacks practicing these days, Juice has more work to do than usual.

"Yes, I got a little winded. But it's good for us. I try to think about the positive and not just about being tired. I just have to stay mentally tough and fight through it."

Juice likes his receiver corps and believes they are improving daily.

"I tell them all the time in the locker room, 'You guys look nice.' That's the kind of receiver corps you need to have, just as much as throwing the ball. I see some of the guys over there catching passes right now. Guys who want to dedicate themselves to this team just come out here to be excellent."

Williams wished to dispel the rumor that he trusts some receivers more than others or prefers throwing to his friends.

"I tend to throw to the open guys. I must trust all my receivers. They show me day in and day out they're capable of catching the ball, so whoever is open gets the ball."

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