When Corey Liuget enrolled at Illinois, defensive tackle was considered one of the Illini's deepest positions. Liuget was expected to see playing time, but he would need to share the position with several other talented performers. However injuries, suspensions and transfers have made Liuget the most experienced d-tackle entering spring ball.
"Yeah, I guess that's true," Liuget admits. "I've just got to help the young guys step up, let them know it's just football. There's no difference, it's just college now."
Hopefully, Sirod Williams and Daryle Ballew will return healthy this fall after knee and shoulder surgeries respectively. And Josh Brent will be reinstated on the team. With our without their help, Corey should be a mainstay at the position. With the experience gained last fall, everything makes more sense to him.
"It feels great coming into this year, knowing we're gonna give everything we've got every play. I believe our defense is gonna step up bigtime this year.
"Yes, I think I'm more advanced. Now I know what to expect. When I go into a game now, I know what to expect from the offensive linemen. How good is he, what kind of block is he gonna take. Just film work and everything like that will help prepare me for this year and help me out."
Corey was surprised how much he played last fall.
"Last year, I didn't expect to play as much coming in. But once the year got going, I knew I could handle it. I knew it's not that tough."
With experience comes confidence, and Liuget already speaks like a team leader when discussing the defensive tackles.
"We're not too deep, but we're deep enough that I can count on the other guys. When I need a breather, I know they're gonna step in and take my place with no slack. Everyone's gonna be on point."
The 6'-3", 290 pound product of Hialeah Lakes, Florida, had to face some talented offensive linemen in the Big 10. He didn't play enough to mention Penn State linemen early in the year, but he was especially impressed with two teams.
"Most of the guys from Ohio State and Michigan gave me a run for my money last year. Everyone else was just regular."
He sprained his ankle and missed a couple games. While he returned quickly, he may not have been at full speed the rest of the year.
"It was two games, Wisconsin and Iowa. I came back a little bit better, but right now I still have a little injury. But I keep rehabbing it every day."
Liuget learned he needs to work on some things to be a top defender.
"My main thing now is I want to work on my hands and just get better at getting off my blocks quicker. I know that's gonna help me prepare for the next level."
Corey not only had to adjust to college football and the academic rigors of higher education. He also had to survive his first cold winter.
"The first day of winter was hard for me. On the first day, everyone was taking a knee or what not. But by the second day, it was a piece of cake then."
He also had to endure his first winter conditioning.
"Whew. I knew I wasn't in high school any more. In high school, you're usually off a month or two and not doing anything until spring ball starts. Waking up at 5:00am every day was just different."
The hard physical training has paid off for him.
"My weight has stayed the same, in the 290 range. But I got a lot stronger this year. In high school, I was only benching about 250. Now, I'm at about 385-395. I have noticed a difference on the field. I put a couple guys in the backfield. So I notice it out there."
Besides all those adjustments, Liuget had to familiarize himself with a new defensive line coach as Keith Gilbert replaced Tom Sims on the Illinois staff.
"He's a funny guy. He works us to death. When it's time to work, we work. But when it's time to joke around, I love him a lot. He's been great for me."