Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure showed good potential last fall running the ball as a true freshman. However, he broke his jaw in an off-the-field incident with a teammate. He says the problems between the two have been ironed out.
"Team chemistry is good and things between the person who the incident was with and I are good. The story that came out wasn't fully accurate, but it is over with now. It's in the past and I want to leave it there."
A broken jaw requires a long recovery period.
"I was out for six weeks. It happened the week before the Western Michigan game. It set me back during the season, but now there are no side effects. It's not setting me back now.
"During the season, I had my jaw wired shut. I was on a liquid diet so I lost maybe 22-23 pounds. I'm not close to back where I was at in terms of weight, but I'm back to where I was in terms of my muscles. I'm still a lot leaner and I want to stay that way."
The accident was a blessing in disguise as Mikel is definitely quicker and lighter on his feet this spring.
"It just feels a lot better because I don't have that load on me anymore. I feel a lot better. My legs are lighter and my strides are opening up more. I got a little bit more burst when I first catch the ball."
Fellow back Jason Ford has also lost weight and improved his conditioning.
"Yeah, he lost weight too. I think he's slimmed down too and lost some body fat. It just comes with experience. It's the ins and outs of it and knowing how to store your energy."
Leshoure is pleased with Coach Schultz' offensive philosophy.
"He preached to us that we want to be able to run the ball and establish our passing game. He was saying that when we had Rashard [Mendenhall], we had a sound running game and made it to the Rose Bowl. But last year we were the leading passing team in the Big 10.
"So, we are going to focus on the run. We aren't getting away from the pass, but we want to establish the run first."
The Champaign Centennial product has always been a good pass receiver. Despite the emphasis on the running game, Mikel expects to be involved more in the passing game as well. He laughed when identifying who is the best receiver out of the backfield.
"I guess I have to say myself. I believe that, honestly. We didn't throw a lot out of the backfield last year, but we should this year with Coach Schultz."
Leshoure was excited to put on full pads Saturday. And he proved it by knocking off several big gainers.