Time Now for Josh Brent to Step Forward

You can never have enough defensive linemen. Great ones are hard to find, but a top college football team must recruit them to apply consistent pressure to the great offenses they must face. So when you bring in someone with as much potential as Josh Brent, you help him become the best he can be.

With senior defensive tackle Sirod Williams lost for the season with knee surgery, sophomore letterman Brent is now a starter in the Illini's defensive line. He's a man mountain with quickness and strength, but he's actually lost weight to prepare for the 2008 season.

"This summer, I focused on losing weight. At the beginning of summer, I was about 327, but now I'm consistently between 305 and 309. So I've lost weight but managed to keep my strength and gotten a little stronger.

"I've gotten a whole lot faster, quicker off the ball. So the summer conditioning program has definitely helped me get ready for the season."

Senior center Ryan McDonald is one of several Illinois offensive linemen who dislike trying to block the talented Brent. With the improved conditioning and experience, he should be even more imposing.

"It definitely doesn't get easier, but once you have the experience of being in there, knowing the game speed, knowing the plays helps. If you know the plays, you can focus on playing hard and getting to the spot where you're supposed to go. You know, holding your gap and getting into your alignment."

Josh is always glad when the Illini go from fundamental drills to full pads. That way, he's less likely to hurt someone.

"It's pretty intense now that we have full pads on. You can kinda go full go and not worry so much if guys fall on the ground. Without full pads, it was more of a pro style practice focused on learning everything and trying to get that aggressiveness. You know, learning the plays moreso for the young guys."

The Bloomington Central Catholic product is humble about his own ability and that of his team. He has heard the glowing praise and is quietly confident the Illini defensive line will be improved but prefers to let their actions on the field do the talking.

"I'll leave that to the critics. I've read in a couple national magazines our d-line has gotten progressively better over the years, and that's going to get better when you get depth in numbers. Last year, I think we had only 13 d-linemen, and this year we have 18. With numbers, there's gonna be a spread of talent, and you're gonna get more production."

Josh is a student of the game, and he is eager to learn from senior leaders Dave Lindquist and Williams.

"I try to learn as much as I can from them. Any advice for me, I try to take and apply as much as possible. It's great for me, I think. With four years in the defense, they're gonna have tricks up their sleeves for those o-linemen. It's definitely valuable having two seniors with that much experience in front of you. So when they're gone, possibly I can take their spots."

He is also excited about the three freshmen defensive linemen who joined the program this summer.

"Definitely. Looking back at some of my film, these freshmen are definitely a lot stronger than I was coming in. That summer weight lifting and conditioning program definitely helped them.

"One that stands out to me most is Corey Liuget (defensive tackle). His speed at 290 pounds, you think he's a d-end the way he moves around in there. Glenn Foster and Ugo (Uzodinma) are strong, strong defensive ends and have major quickness at the same time."

As with most Illini players, Brent is using the Rose Bowl loss as incentive to improve this season.

"With so many guys on that Rose Bowl team last year, you come back with a little more confidence and more hunger. Everybody wants to get back there, but also to win.

"So you come out here with that on your mind. You come out here everyday to get better so we don't have a mishap like we did in the Rose Bowl.

"Our main focus right now is you're only as good as your last game, and our last game was the Rose Bowl. We left a pretty bad impression, so we're practicing to try to change that when August 30 comes."

That first game is against a powerful Missouri team that defeated the Illini in St. Louis last year. Brent didn't play in that game as he was still recovering from a preseason knee injury. Now, he wants to make up for lost time.

"I travelled but did not play against Missouri last year. My body still wasn't 100% after a MCL injury. If I get out on the field and get my chance, I definitely plan to play to the best of my ability."

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