Guard Hunt Hopes For His Chance To Start

The Fighting Illini lost two valued starters on the offensive line to graduation, including All-American left guard Martin O'Donnell. Several returning squadmen will vie for those two openings this spring and fall, but redshirt sophomore Randall Hunt has first crack at replacing O'Donnell. He knows he has a big task ahead of him.

"Those are big shoes to fill," admits Hunt. "He set the right precedent for us. I know what I've got to do to be as good as him."

Randall Hunt came to Illinois from Hightstown, New Jersey. The 6'-6", 303 pound Hunt is now going through his third spring practice, having entered the UI after one semester at Valley Forge Prep School in Pennsylvania. He has paid his dues and is now excited for the opportunity to compete for a starting spot.

"It feels great. I've just had to wait my turn, and now this year I'm going to take the opportunity and run with it."

Offensive linemen always take awhile to build up strength for the task of neutralizing athletic college defensive linemen. Hunt's task was made more difficult when he injured his chest his first spring.

"I enrolled in January, and right before the spring game I tore my pectoral muscle. I worked hard and rehabbed it, and I'm here today. When I came back from all the rehab, because I rehabbed my other arm too, I came back stronger. But it took awhile to get my strength back.

"I'm hitting about 405 in the bench, squat I'm trying to get up to 500. I'm up to about 480-490 right now. You've got to be strong out there."

Randall also had to adjust to a change in offensive line coaches.

"It took awhile, but Coach Wolf (Eric Wolford) came in, we had to make some changes and get some things right, but we've got things straight now.

"When Coach Wolford came here, he made it clear to everyone to be a cohesive unit. But him just saying it wasn't enough. We had to come together and do it. Now I feel like we're comfortable enough with each other as a group. And I feel like we're doing good right now."

Coach Wolford is a perfectionist, and he won't play people unless they are showing consistent excellence.

"No, I didn't get into the Rose Bowl. I got into two games last year, just some cleanup crew at the end of Minnesota and the end of Syracuse. I just had to get some mental stuff down. Just being out there, it helps you learn how fast it is. It's totally different. Once you get out there and see how fast it is, you get used to it."

Hunt believes toughness is his biggest attribute as a lineman.

"I'm just trying to be as tough as possible. As long as you go out there and be as tough as possible, you'll be all right. I feel being aggressive is my best thing right now.

"My technique is good. When you play offensive line, all the little things matter. When you get those things right, everything slows."

There are a number of good young prospects on the offensive line, and three more will join the team in the fall. With Coach Wolford moving players to different positions to help them understand the entire package and find the best combinations, competition is fierce.

"Competition is great," says Hunt. "I love it. With them behind me, I know I have people pushing me, so I want the best out of everybody. Just keep working hard."

The Communications major also appreciates the help he has received from the upperclassmen and departed seniors.

"All the seniors from last year, Akim (Millington) and O'Donnell, and X (Fulton) and Jon (Asamoah) and everybody tell us what we've got to do. We watch them and learn from them, and then go out there and do it."

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