Randall Hunt came to Illinois hoping to play early and often in his career. He has improved each season, but he always found someone ahead of him. It has been a slow, agonizing process, but the redshirt junior is now firmly established as a starter.
"It feels good," Hunt relates. "It's been a long time since I've been here, and now I'm ready to do what I've got to do to do my thing out on the field."
One of the things Hunt had to do over the years was improve his strength, which for him was a slow process. But he's finally happy about his physical development.
"I've put on a few pounds. I'm up to 315, 320. On my bench press, I did 30 reps at 225, and I'm benching around 405. It makes a big difference."
New offensive line coach Joe Gilbert has made a positive impression on his group.
"Coach Gilbert's a great guy. He wants us to be good on the field, but off the field as well. He wants us to be good people. He knows his stuff. He really wants to work on technique and doing the little things right. That's what matters in the end."
Gilbert made a few changes from his predecessor, but Hunt says there have been minimal problems with the transition. And the technique work has proven beneficial for the linemen.
"It's good. We're working on a lot of technique stuff now. There've been a few changes here and there, but it's all the same. We just had to get used to the new terminology and keep doing it, getting the competitiveness going."
The five line starters became established in the spring, allowing them to develop a cohesiveness and teamwork that helps them perform on the field.
"It's good, it's really good. We always talk about unity and how we've got to be together. We're all living with somebody. Me and (Eric) Block are living together. We make sure we do stuff together, and we've got that communication going. That's your brother next to you, so you've got to look out for each other."
Hunt sees great potential for the offense.
"Oh, man, it's crazy. We don't pay attention to anything behind us, but you just watch it on film. These guys are amazing. It's just great to see how many people we have that can do big things for us. That's big."
The offensive linemen have extra incentive to perform at a peak level this year. They see all the talent at the skill positions and realize it is up to them to help those players get into the open field.
"Definitely. Definitely. They can even make us look better sometimes. It definitely makes us want to go hard for those guys."
Hunt can't hide his enthusiasm for the potential of the entire Illinois team.
"Man, I'm feeling great. We're really good. We've got a lot of leadership. We just had a player meeting yesterday and talked about a lot of things, getting things in order. As long as we believe, we can go anywhere. We've got the talent."