Belleville Althoff running back Jason Ford lettered in his rookie year for Illinois. He showed potential, especially near the goal line. But inexperience and a little extra weight slowed him down and limited his effectiveness. He gained 294 yards and scored 8 touchdowns, but he knew he needed to make improvements.
"Last year, I was kind of just worried about the speed and worrying about the offense, the plays and footwork. Coach (Mike) Locksley's was a real complicated offense, while Coach (Mike) Schultz is more relaxed. So I think I'm way more comfortable than I was last year."
Ford also worked diligently on his body. He weighed 237 pounds last year, including a significant amount of body fat.
"I've lost a lot of body fat and lost some weight. I'm stronger, and I'm quicker and faster than last year. So I'm more confident. Right now, I weigh 226, 227. I hope at the start of the season to get down to 220."
The experiences he had last year also helped prepare him for improved future performance.
"Playing at places like Penn State, all the big games, helped my confidence a lot."
Ford is expected to see a great deal of playing time this fall, but he accepts the fact that the Illini possess several talented runners. All can and will contribute.
"We were kind of slow last year, so we want to pick it up. We know we've got four good backs, so we can lead the Big 10 in rushing if we play like we're supposed to. We've got four good backs we can spread around the defense. Me and Mikel Leshoure are power backs, and Troy Pollard and Daniel Dufrene are speed backs, and (freshmen) Justin Green and Bud Golden can step in."
Each running back encourages the others despite the competition between them.
"We're real good friends. We hang out on weekends or whenever we have free time. We play video games and things like that. So we're all pretty close.
"It's pushing us to get better because everybody can play. There are six of us, so we're just working hard to get there."
Ford wants to play, but he's not opposed to the Illini coaches bringing in even more running backs to compete with him.
"We keep bringing in good players, so they're gonna keep pushing us, making us better."