Buckeyes Beckon As Seniors Say Goodbye

This Saturday is the last home football game for 17 Fighting Illini seniors. It will be emotional for them even without seeing the Scarlet and Gray of Ohio State University waiting to oppose them. There are a lot of story lines in this one, but Illinois needs an upset win against a quality foe eager for vengence.

While some of the Illinois seniors are fifth year redshirts, most arrived as part of coach Ron Zook's first recruiting class. They have seen terrible lows and experienced heights of ecstasy. They are a quality group and will be missed.

Those participating in Senior Day include Eric Block, Matt Brandabur, Sam Carson, Will Davis, Jack Eastman, Xavier Fulton, Conor Gillen, Will Judson, David Lindquist, Ryan McDonald, Brit Miller, Mike Nabolotny, Tyler Pacha, Rodney Pittman, Tom Sullivan, Derek Walker and Byson Whalen. Walkon kicker Brandabur is graduating in three year.

Defensive end Will Davis remembers his first Illini game, a home come-from-behind victory over Rutgers.

"I remember us going out there not knowing where we were. We were just starting off the first game with Coach Zook. When we came out with a win, we just knew it was going to get better and better from there. Even though that season didn't go the way we wanted it to, we knew it was gonna get better."

Illinois has had a roller coaster season, with three winable games going into the loss column. But Davis and his teammates are still looking to take something positive from the season.

"The easy thing about this week is we have Ohio State coming in," Davis explained. "Anytime you have a big team like that, you're gonna be amped for it no matter how you played before. It helps you adjust your mind to another game. It's tough losing, period. But all together, we've held our heads high, and we're gonna be ready to go against Ohio State."

Receiver Arrelious Benn hasn't given up.

"You're gonna have your ups and downs as a team. We've just got to keep going and do what we've got to do to get us to a bowl game. There's no reason to get down on ourselves or take a step back. We've got to step forward."

Benn acknowledged it is tough to accept losses after all the hard work throughout the year preparing for a 12 game season.

"It's very tough. Everybody wants to win, but it's hard to win. You've got to come out fighting every play. One play could lose a game, and the little things could make you lose. It hurts not to have the accolades we want, but we know we're gonna find a way to get something out of it."

Linebacker Brit Miller continues to find positives about his team. And he has become somewhat philosophical as unusual circumstances have often favored opponents.

"Yeah, getting all these penalties and everything. It's just so funny what kind of stuff happens. Me and Sam (Carson) were laughing about when I ripped that ball out on the sideline (against WMU), and if you're lucky that's the kind you can pick up and go. And he kicks it right back to the guy, and he had to wrestle it away.

"Last year, we'd get those breaks and this year we're struggling through it. Football's just a funny game. It is about the breaks and how capable you are of capitalizing on them. Right now, we haven't been able to do that but we're still a good team. I'll go to battle with my guys any day.

"Any time you go out with guys like Juice (Williams) and Arrelious on offense, and the big old line we've got, guys like Will Davis. When you have that much talent, you've got to be confident in what you're doing. Hanging out with those guys, I see it. I feel confident we can win ball games, and they do too."

Juice knows the Buckeye defense is great and will focus on not letting him beat them two years in a row. He has struggled of late, but he knows he must find ways of having fun on the field regardless of the circumstances. And he still believes the Illini have a chance to pull out a victory.

"Absolutely, there's still a lot to play for. College football's so crazy nowadays to rule teams out. We still have opportunities, but none of that will happen if we don't come out and execute Saturday.

"You've got to find something inside the game that's fun about it. The game of football needs to be fun in order to be successful. If we're not out there having fun and playing with purpose, we need not be out there. Most of the guys know we're playing for something, so we're gonna try to do our best and try to come out of the next two games with W's."

Practice this week has gone well, as it has every week according to Illinois coach Ron Zook.

"I thought it was good. I'm not gonna comment on practice because practice hasn't been the issue. I think they're excited about this week. We've just got to do what we can do. There's no difference between this football team today and before Penn State, before Missouri."

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