Akeem Spence Providing Depth On D-Line

Most high school football stars hope to play college ball their first years. Few are ready, so redshirting becomes a necessity. In the case of Illini freshman defensive tackle Akeem Spence, a redshirt year was beneficial. And now with a new defensive philosophy, he is ready to compete for playing time.

Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence benefitted from redshirting last year.

"Last year I learned a lot of technique. I watched Corey [Liuget] and Josh [Brent]. Josh is a good run stopper, and Corey is quick and agile. I tried to pick their brains."

He was also able to transform his body, gain strength and get into top shape through Coach Lou Hernandez's strength and conditioning program.

"I think I went up 50 pounds on my bench. I also lost weight so I'm a lot lighter. I'm about 305 right now."

The Fort Walton Beach, Florida, freshman is warming up to new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.

"He brings a lot of energy. At first, when he was first hired I was a little shaky on him, but as I got to know him more we get along. He knows my area pretty well so we can relate. It feels like he's been here a year."

What are the differences between Koenning and last year's co-coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory?

"I'm more scared of Coach. I'm afraid to mess up and afraid to skip class. Coach Vic won't let me slide. I missed one hour of study hall and he punished me for it. We've got a good relationship though."

Spence is working primarily with defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, whom he respects.

"Coach Gilmore expects a lot from us. He knows we're a little shaky with the new defense, but he expects us to know what we're supposed to do."

Everyone on the defensive line is working to improve the skills necessary to make the new defense work.

"We need to work on technique. Since we're limited in numbers, everyone is getting a chance to work on their game."

What does he need to do to make improvements?

"Coach Gilmore wants me to watch more film. I'm working on that, but I've definitely learned a lot by watching film."

Spence likes the new defense.

"I like this defense more. We're moving and its quick movements. I didn't like the defense last year. It was too complicated for me, but this defense I like a lot. It's a lot more fun."

It took awhile to become acclimated to college academic requirements, but Spence is beginning to catch on.

"I finally figured it all out. First semester I was struggling, but now I figured it out."

Illinois coach Ron Zook is pleased with Spence's progress this spring.

"He's stepped up and showed he's ready to play. I'm excited about what he's accomplished so far."

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