Illinois has enjoyed the talents of Doug Pilcher ever since Coach Ron Zook arrived on campus. Recruited originally by former coach Ron Turner, Pilcher redshirted his first year and has been a starter ever since. His strength, maturity, leadership and savvy will be a big asset this season.
It seems like forever since Doug Pilcher first walked onto the Camp Rantoul practice field. Last Saturday was his last day there, and he had mixed emotions.
"I'm not gonna be sad to leave this place. But we've worked on a lot of things, and I'm excited about that."
He is excited because he sees potential in the Illini defense and especially the defensive line.
"I think we're seeing a lot of improvement. We worked hard over the summer and came out to Camp Rantoul ready to go. We're looking good. We're focused on stopping the run. We've worked a lot on our pass rush and our contains and technique work."
There are some new faces on defense, so it takes awhile for everyone to jell together. Pilcher believes that is happening.
"We look for our assignment checks. Make sure everyone has their assignments. That's the biggest thing for our defense. We've got a couple new linebackers, new play callers with Martez Wilson and Ian Thomas. Just making sure we have our assignments down, having everyone on the same page. That's the biggest thing we look for when we scrimmage."
It helps the defense to go against the Illini offense, considered one of the best in the Big 10.
"Yeah, it's great for our young defense, going against our offense. As a defense, we think we have something to prove this year. The offense is getting a lot of pub, and they should be. They're a good team. But we get to go against them every day and work on the things we need to work on. It helps us get better."
Pilcher has now worked with two defensive line coaches, Tom Sims and Keith Gilmore. He believes their combined knowledge prepares him well for the football season.
"Coach Gilmore is a great guy. He brings something different to the table. There's a lot more focus on hands and technique. It's great. I've had two different coaches, I can learn a little bit from both coaches and use them for my advantage."
The 6'-5", 270 pounder is happy to see fifth year senior Sirod Williams back at tackle after sitting out last year with surgery.
"He's a big, strong kid, probably the strongest on the team. We missed him last year with the knee injury, and we're happy to have him back. He's a big, powerful guy that can clog up the middle for us. I think we're gonna see some good things out of him."
Pilcher loves football. He loves not only the game itself and the physical play that's required, but also the process of creating a game plan and then carrying it out against a quality opponent.
"It's always fun to take what we've learned and worked on all week and kind of put it together on Saturday. Try to get as much of a game-like situation as we can."
A fifth year player could easily lose interest. Pilcher hopes for an NFL career, but there are only a couple of players left on the team who arrived on campus with him. If last season's problems had carried over to this year, it might have affected his commitment and level of effort in the offseason. But he is rejuvenated by the attitude of the 2009 Fighting Illini.
"It's totally different than last year. I think we're a lot more refocused this year, a lot more grounded. I think we know what we need to work on. We need to go into that first game with a chip on our shoulder and ready to go."
As a wise, mature adult, Pilcher has seen everything from a losing record to a Rose Bowl appearance. He knows what it takes to achieve success at the college level, and he shares that knowledge with the younger players.
"It's a lot of hard work. For me being on that Rose Bowl team, it didn't just happen overnight. We had great leadership, we put in a lot of hard work over the off season. And that's kind of what I'm seeing from this team.
"I'm not gonna make any predictions, but we've worked hard in the off season, and we're gonna take it one game at a time. Hopefully have a good season."