Jon Asamoah was looking forward to an outstanding senior year and future professional career. He and the rest of the Illinois football team worked extremely hard in the off season, determined to reverse last year's disappointing 5-7 result. But after a 1-5 start, he finds himself asserting his authority with his teammates to get them on a winning track.
"This is the worst record since I've been here. Even my first year, 2-10, started better than this. It's time for these guys to grow up. It's time for all the guys on this team to keep fighting. The young guys are learning nothing's gonna be given to you."
Can you get the other players to play with the hunger of the seniors?
"They will, because after these last few weeks, I don't care anymore. I'm no longer Mr. Nice Guy. In my group, guys are gonna step up or they won't play. Me and (Eric) Block are leading out on the field. We need the younger guys."
Illini coach Ron Zook inserted true freshman Hugh Thornton as a starter at right tackle at Indiana, replacing lettermen Ryan Palmer and Corey Lewis. A shakeup was needed, and Thornton played admirably in his first college game.
"Hugh was out there the last game and played his butt off. He made his freshman mistakes, but that was the best freshman starting his first game in four years. He was amazing. He played so hard. We need the rest of the guys to follow his example, guys like Ryan Palmer, Randall Hunt and Jeff Allen. He makes mistakes, but he plays hard."
Asamoah had to learn the hard way, through mistakes and losses. He feels it's time the younger players did the same.
"I learned when I was young, my freshman year and sophomore year. I got smacked in the face. Hopefully, these guys have gotten smacked in the face and have learned just how hard they have to play."
The 6'-5", 310 pounder is confident seniors on other parts of the team are rising up like he is, but he has a singluar focus.
"I know in the offensive line, we are so focused on what we're doing. I'm sure the other seniors are taking care of their groups, but I'm focused on our unit."
Making things worse is the suddenness of the fall. No one on the team thought they would win only one of their first six games. None visualized failure. None expected booing from their fans. It makes no sense to Asamoah.
"That's why it's so frustrating. I've had a sick feeling all day long. I had a headache. I was mad. I came into the season feeling like, 'We're gonna do this, we're gonna do this, we're gonna go out there and fight.' Nothing's gonna be given to you. We've learned a lesson this year."
Everyone on the team worked extremely hard in the off season, and there was reason to expect success. All that work with no rewards damages confidence and leaves a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach.
"It is. It is. That's why I feel the way I do. I don't even think about it because it makes me mad right now. I'm sick. All the work we put in, we can't think about that. Right now, it's not where I want to be."
There was a change in offensive coordinators since last year. Does the team have trouble playing hard for Mike Schultz? Fans are distraught over the the play calling. Do the players feel the same way?
"This is an offensive lineman talking. The blocking is the same exact thing. If we do our jobs, we shouldn't be stopped. We should execute our plays whatever is called. That's how I see it."
Asamoah is also working with a new offensive line coach. Does that contribute to the penalties and mistakes being made every Saturday?
I've played for three different offensive line coaches. We changed everything, but we still must execute."
He says any offensive style can win if the team plays hard and executes its assignments.
"Yeah. I learned something from every single one of them. With (Ed) Warriner and Wolf (Eric Wolford), I took something of their mentality. Wolf put the killer instinct in me, and Coach (Joe) Gilbert has refined everything.
"If you do what he tells you and execute, focus...see the things we've been looking at. Every night the offensive line is watching film until 8:00-9:00pm. Focus on what you see on film because you're gonna see it in games."
On a personal level, the Rich East product had a setback early in Camp Rantoul. It can now be confirmed he was diagnosed with mononucleosis. But the doctors caught it early, gave him antivirals and were able to bring about a quick recovery. However, he lost a lot of weight and strength, and it took him at least two games to get back to full strength.
Regardless, Asamoah offers no excuses. And he refuses to give up. He has worked too hard, invested too much to go down without a fight.
"I'm the same person I was going into Missouri. In my mind, it ain't over. And I don't care, I'm gonna go out there and play as hard as I can. I'm not gonna let anybody beat me.
"We have to have the mentality, don't think of anything else, just go focus on Purdue. That's all we can do."