Illini Ready for Eastern, Transfers

The Fighting Illini football team hopes to rebound from its tough loss to Missouri when it tangles with Eastern Illinois University Saturday as part of the Illinois Renaissance celebration. The Panthers lost their first game also, but they will be fired up against the Illini.

As Coach Ron Zook reminded, "They have a couple guys who transferred from here, and we're gonna get their Super Bowl."

Indeed, senior defensive tackle Jeff Sobol and his replacement D'Angelo McCray, a freshman, will have significant motivation to play their hearts out against their former team. In addition, J Leman's younger brother Cory, also a linebacker, will join them, as will 46 other players from Illinois high schools. They want to show their state school what it is missing by not recruiting them.

EIU also boasts 26 Florida products on its roster. Known for its wealth of speed and athleticism, Florida fills the roster of numerous teams around the country. Many of the Panthers' Florida players know some of the Illini Florida contingent, giving the game even more significance for them.

Eastern is a Division I-AA school. As such, it is ranked 18th in the FCS preseason poll. It is accustomed to winning. Coach Bob Spoo is in his 22nd year in charge of the Panther program, and he has led them to 8 NCAA FCS playoff spots and ten Top 25 national rankings.

Spoo was named the Football Gazette I-AA Coach of the Year in 1995 and was second in the balloting for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award in 2000. And he has won the OVC six of the last 8 years.

The Panthers play division one opponents early in the season and struggle. But when they get into the Ohio Valley schedule, they are formidable. They lost this past week to Central Michigan 31-12, although the game was closer than the score indicates.

EIU has scored at least one touchdown in each of its last 11 games, and it hasn't been shut out in 55 straight games. Coach Zook has great respect for their offensive potential.

"They have a new offensive coordinator. They have some pretty good tight ends. They play a lot of what we call '12 personnel' with 2 tight ends and a running back or one tight end and three wide receivers and one back. The quarterback is sound. They're gonna throw caution to the wind, so we have to be ready for anything."

Junior Bodie Reeder (6'-0", 208) is the Panther quarterback, and he is a good one. The Mahomet-Seymour product was 19 of 28 for 201 yards and one touchdown against CMU. His backup is Maroa-Forsyth product Luke Hockaday, who Illinois considered recruiting.

Reeder has a number of receivers available to him. Tight end Sean McGrath (6'-5", 233), was Reeder's favorite target against CMU with six catches for 66 yards. Alex Jones (6'-3", 227) is also a quality tight end. Charles Graves (6'-1", 179) grabbed five balls for 66 yards, and Quintin Ponius (5'-9", 201) had four catches for 27 yards. Alicus Nozinor and Lorence Ricks are also in the two-deep at receiver.

Senior running back Travorus Bess (5'-8", 181) needs only 30 yards to reach 1000 for his career. But he may be only third in the depth chart. Ron Jordan (5'-8", 185) gained 20 yards in 10 carries and is considered a starter for the Panthers. Freshman Desmin Ward (6'-0", 223) gained 33 yards to Bess' 23 against CMU.

The Eastern offensive line took a hit last week when starting guard suffered a concussion against Central Michigan. He will be out several weeks. The Panthers need to find an adequate replacement.

The Panther tackles are Ryan Grossman (6'-4", 295), a redshirt freshman from Glenbard South high school, and senior Mike Scheibel (6'-3", 304) out of Highland. Fellow redshirt freshman Eric Rettke (6'-3", 330, Orland Park Carl Sandburg) plays next to Grossman at left guard. Redshirt juniors Chris Vaccaro (6'-3", 285, Kankakee Bishop McNamara) and Chaz Millard (6'-3", 289, St. Charles North) are starters at center and right guard respectively.

Placekicker Tyler Wilke boomed two field goals through the uprights last week, giving him a streak of 6 going back to last season. And punter Kevin Cook is among the nation's leaders, averaging 43.3 yards per punt against CMU.

Defensively, defensive end Pierre Walters (6'-5", 269) is highly decorated. He is on the watch list for the 2008 Buck Buchanan Award. He was a third team Associated Press All-American in 2007. His sack against CMU gave him 12 for his career.

Linebacker Jack Kosinski (5'-11", 219) was credited with 10 tackles against CMU to lead his team. Nick Nasti (6'-1", 230) is listed ahead of him. Walters, cornerback CJ James (5'-8", 175) and middle linebacker Alain Marcelin (6'-0", 222) each had eight tackles.

Free safety Seymour Loftman (5'-11", 197), strong safety Ke'Andre Sams (5'-11', 202) and cornerback Rashad Haynes (5'-11", 175) were also among the tackle leaders in the Panthers' opener.

Coach Zook reminds players and fans alike that a win cannot be assumed. The Illini will need to play well to pull off the victory.

"The team that played last Thursday is not the team that is gonna walk in here. If you don't put their fire out immediately, they're gonna stick around. They're gonna play hard."

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