Dimke Settles Into Kickoff Role Easily

Illinois entered the football season undecided on a kicker. With Jason Reda graduated, four candidates competed for the position. One of those was freshman walkon Derek Dimke. While Derek was beaten out by Matt Eller for field goals and extra points, he was installed midseason as the kickoff man.

A Rockford Boylan graduate, Derek Dimke was ranked by Scout.com as the 13th best kicker nationally. Derek booted a 54 yarder to earn a state playoff record, and Coach Ron Zook saw him as the next Reda. He saw that as a positive.

"It just made it exciting to get here, to see where I was. My goal is just to help out the team. Whether that's sitting out or playing this year, that's what I had to do.

"Yeah, there was a little bit of pressure. It was more like a friendly pressure with the competition, a good pressure that makes you better."

At first, Dimke seemed poised to win the job. But Matt Eller, Matt Brandabur and Mike Cklamovski also were doing well enough to challenge. Each was inconsistent enough to extend the competition to the end of fall camp. By then, Dimke started to fade.

"I was doing a lot of kicking, and my leg was kind of dead."

Derek accepted the selection of Matt Eller without complaint.

"I was hoping to be in the mix, and I was. I was given my chances. Matt won out. He does a great job. He's killing the ball this year."

One problem Derek faced, common to college freshmen, was getting accustomed to kicking off the ground instead of a tee like is used in high school. Some of his kicks were too low and were blocked.

"Yes, that was a big adjustment. It's something I still have to work on. Matt does a great job. He gets the ball up twice as high as I do. That's one big thing I have to work on."

While he awaited his turn, he also took the time to gain leg strength.

"I was trying to get stronger with Coach Lou, that was the big thing. I gained a lot of weight and muscle."

At midseason, with Coach Zook preferring to keep Eller from kicking too much and needing more consistency on kickoffs, Dimke got the call. He has enjoyed his playing time.

"It's been fun. I wasn't real sure whether I was gonna get to play or not. I just do what the coach asks me the best I can. I'm just happy to play and help out the team."

Illinois needed consistency in all aspects of the kickoff, as Derek explains.

"Coach Zook likes placement kicks, so that was a big thing I worked on. He wants it deep left, deep right, squib, sky. You know, not just to go deep. It's easiest to just line up and kick the ball as hard as you can. But Coach likes deep left, so that's what I was practicing. It's my job to make it easier for the coverage."

Dimke was told he could obtain a scholarship his sophomore year if he won the job, but only one kicker can get one. It appears he must still beat out Eller for that coveted scholarship.

"I had high hopes to be the guy this year, but if I needed to sit out and then get the job next year or whenever my time was called, I'm willing to do.

"I'm planning on being on scholarship next year. Hopefully, that still works. Matt and I are cool. I want what's best for him. If he gets it and I don't, that's great."

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