Aaron Gress transferred to Illinois from College Of Sequoias in time to participate in spring ball 2009. But even with that extra practice time, he saw little action at linebacker last fall. He did however become a special teams demon.
With a year under his belt, the California native feels he is making definite progress. He spoke recently about the improvements he has made as a linebacker.
"Probably run defense and being a better team player and a teammate. I think I'm someone who brings energy and is someone other guys can feed off of."
Gress has also benefitted from a year in Strength and Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez's program.
"I'm a lot stronger. Coach Lou has a great weight program. Going through that and being here over a year now I can really see the improvement."
"I think we've come together a lot this year. Everybody is really friendly, and we're a good group of guys that like to get after it."
The 6'-0", 220 pounder also is excited about the role of the linebackers in the new Illinois defensive scheme.
"I think with the defense it gives the inside backers a lot more opportunities to make plays. I think it's a great fit for all of us at that position. There are different responsibilities than last year."
Gress believes in linebacker coach Dan Disch.
"Having the player-coach chemistry has been really good. He knows his linebackers and we know him. We feed off of him. He gives us encouragement and energy."
The defense was worked hard this spring. Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning demanded a team effort, and it began to pay off according to Gress.
"We had a lot of up-downs and different ways to keep people in line and accountable to each other. I think our team has grown from that."
One of the biggest challenges of the spring was containing the speed of Illini redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
"He's definitely faster and a lot better runner than some of the quarterbacks we've seen. We're used to Juice (Williams) so it's not that much of a difference. We get back to the basics, our form, hustle to the ball, and wrap up in order to contain him."
The Illini are working on their own over the summer and won't receive more coaching until Camp Rantoul. Gress believes this time period is extremely important for success on the field this fall.
"We need to work on not being content. We need to keep our foot on the accelerator. We won't have the coaches around, so we'll have to be accountable to each other. We have to keep learning the plays and finish hard."