Special Teams "Coach Woody" Happy To Be Here

Amid all the fanfare of Fighting Illini spring football, a major staff decision went unnoticed. Mike Woodford, formally a "guest" coach replacing Vince Okruch, who was on leave, was hired as a full-time assistant coach with the title Special Teams Coordinator. Okruch has since moved on. And Woodford is thrilled to be in Champaign. .

"Yeah, it's nice to know," he said. "I kind of came here hoping I would be able to stay on."

Coach Woody is in his fourth tour of duty with Coach Zook, having worked with him previously at Kansas University, with the New Orleans Saints, and at the University of Florida, where he was special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach.

The graduate of the University of Arizona has spent his entire career on the defensive side of the ball, so he will help coach the secondary in addition to his special team duties at Illinois.

The native Ohioan is taking over some of Coach Okruch's recruiting territory while adding parts of Ohio.

"I have some Catholic schools up in the Chicago area, the Cincinnati/Dayton area, Akron/Canton area, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and then I spot recruit in parts of Texas.

"Jim Pry's doing such a great job in Pennsylvania, I'm taking over his Cincinnati area. I had recruited Ohio before. I was at the University of Akron for six years and Walsh University for four years, so I recruited Ohio for ten years."

Mike plays his cards close to the vest at times, but he seems encouraged by the development of his special teams, where speed is a necessity.

"Well, we've got more depth. Whenever you have more depth, you're going to have better special teams. And we've got this group coming in this fall, which should make us even stronger."

Regarding placekicking, in last Saturday's prescrimmage warmups Florida walkon Matt Eller showed good height and distance while successfully completing kicks from 20, 27 and 34 yards. Ohio walkon Matt Brandabur, possibly the most consistent kicker, made kicks of 27 and 32 yards but missed a 32 yarder during the scrimmage. And Mike Cklamovski, last year's kickoff specialist, missed a 32 yarder and made a 34 yarder, and he made a 30 yarder during the scrimmage.

Coach Woody is unwilling to name a leader for the important role of replacing graduated place kicker Jason Reda, Illinois' all-time leading scorer.

"It's a three horse race right now. They're all dead even. They're battling it out. We're charting every single kick, and at the end of spring we'll look at them and know where we are."

Eller impressed onlookers in indoor practices leading to the Rose Bowl by demonstrating an onside kick that he could copy repeatedly. He would kick the ball downward into the ground, and it would pop up high in the air before landing exactly the same distance downfield every time.

Coach Woodford acknowledges the advantage of Eller's talent while providing fair warning about the unpredictability of the onside kick.

"Then it's a jump ball. When it comes down, we'll be there. Remember what we tried at Syracuse. It went a foot and a half."

Mike was equally reluctant to praise some defensive backs more than others. But he admitted that Garrett Edwards shared first string duties with Bo Flowers at one safety spot and was first string nickel back in Travon Bellamy's absence Saturday.

"Garrett's fighting for a job."

He also responded to a question about rookie cornerback Ashante Williams, in his first semester at Illinois.

"Ashante's going to be a good player when he learns how to finish plays and work on his technique. He came from a pretty good program, he's a pretty well-schooled kid. He's gonna be good."

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