Running Back Dufrene Ready to Go

It always takes awhile for newcomers to adjust to life as major college football players. But sometimes athletes like running back Daniel Dufrene must play early whether ready or not. Regardless of struggles the first year, the experience gained makes a world of difference the following season.

Rashard Mendenhall received the lion's share of playing time last year, but Daniel Dufrene was his primary backup. The transfer from College Of The Sequoias junior college had his ups and downs, but he did finish 2007 with a 6.3 yards per carry average in his 47 opportunities.

Illini fans may be worried about finding a replacement for Mendenhall, but Dufrene now has confidence he can be the man.

"Now, I just react and make plays. I don't have to try to learn the system and concentrate on what I'm doing. I know what to do now."

The extra confidence is noticeable, and it is much more pronounced than the spring. What has happened since then?

"Just the hard work I've put in during the summer. I spent extra time passing with Juice and learning plays better. It's made a big difference really, especially on offense because it's all timing. We've now worked on it a long time.

"I'm very comfortable compared with last year's camp. Last year, I was trying to learn the system and pick it up real quickly to play for the Missouri game. But this year, I know the plays and the system, so now I'm just concentrating on reacting and making plays."

Just like Mendenhall last year, Daniel has added strength and size to help withstand the pounding during a rugged 12-game schedule. That has also helped his confidence.

"Yeah, it does, it does. Right now, I weigh 212. I'm probably benching around 365 now."

Dufrene had little background in a passing attack prior to Illinois. So his answer to what he wanted to improve the most from last year was no surprise.

"Pretty much the passing game. Last year, I wasn't too confident about the passing game, but I feel better about it now because of the extra work we put in."

Four running backs are competing for playing time. Troy Pollard and freshmen Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford all looking to earn playing time. Daniel sees that as good for the team and the players.

"Yeah, it's very exciting really. It just pushes all of us and motivates us. It just motivates us to work even harder and show (the rookies) the way. I think we're doing pretty good so far. We'll pick up the slack.

"I've been working with Ford, and he's been picking it up. He's a little slow yet, but given time he'll get it. He's skillful."

Daniel gained 58 yards in just 6 carries last year against Missouri, so he's looking forward to the rematch.

"I'm very excited to go out and play against a great team in Missouri, and they'll show us right where we are. Just going through the whole season last year gets us ready for a game like this. We know what it takes to win games like this."

Like his teammates, Dufrene sees a bright future for the 2008 Illini.

"I feel we can be better than last year. We've just got to come out and show it. We need to stay together, stay as a team, and do it as a team."

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