Hawthorne Injury A Huge Blow For Illini

The Fighting Illini football team, already in flux due to the loss of two safeties, has now been dealt another huge blow to its defensive secondary. Terry Hawthorne, who earned Freshman All-Big 10 honors for his play at cornerback last season, suffered a "stress reaction" in his foot. A pin was inserted surgically to quicken healing. It is estimated he will miss 4-6 weeks.

Illinois head coach Ron Zook broke the bad news to assembled media at the conclusion of the Illini's Memorial Stadium dress rehearsal Saturday.

"When it rains it pours. We found out last night that Terry Hawthorne has a stress reaction (in his foot). With Terry Hawthorne it's just a matter of time. He'll be back quicker. They put a screw in it last night to heal faster.

"I feel awful for him, he's worked his tail off. But he'll be back. With football, that's part of it. You've got to regroup and go from there. We'll have four or five guys in there. We'll be all right."

Hawthorne was credited with 30 tackles including 23 solo tackles last year as a rookie. He also broke up five passes and returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown against Minnesota. He was expected to return kicks and punts this year. How long will he be out of the lineup?

"Four to six weeks probably, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is faster than that," Zook estimates. "It's a stress reaction, it's before (a stress fracture). That's good news."

Hawthorne had this type of injury before, and he practiced with it several days.

"Terry is such a tough guy. This happened to him in high school as a junior, and he took a week off and he was fine. I kind of saw him walking gingerly on it, so I asked him if his foot was bothering him. He said it's been bothering him. Had he said something earlier, it probably would have been better. He'll get back, he'll be fine.

"He felt it first in camp. He's a tough guy, and he lives to play ball. I think we still caught it early."

With both Hawthorne and starting safety Supo Sanni injured and safety Walt Aikens dismissed from school, the Illinois coaches have been mixing and matching to find the correct combinations to secure the defensive backfield.

Running back Justin Green and receiver Steve Hull volunteered to move to defensive back earlier in the week, and receiver Jack Ramsey did the same Friday.

"Jack came to me. He knows he's gonna play, and he wants to do whatever he can do to help this team. All three of those guys have. Coach (Paul) Petrino (offensive coordinator and receiver coach) is kind of looking at me funny but he said, 'Whatever it takes for us to win, somebody's got to step up.'"

Pat Nixon-Youman has been playing behind Hawthorne, but he sat out Saturday's dress rehearsal with a migraine headache. Green and safety Travon Bellamy saw time at cornerback, as did Ramsey and Miami Thomas.

Starting cornerback Tavon Wilson spent time at both safety and nickel Saturday. Trulon Henry, Joelil Thrash and Hull were all on the first two units at safety.

The Illini may require some players to fill multiple spots at times to find the best matchups. Zook would not speculate on possible starters.

"I'm not gonna get into who's gonna start or who's gonna be where. Justin's working at it, Jack's working at it, Steve Hull's working at safety. They're all gonna have to play no matter who starts."

It remains to be seen where Wilson will play. But Zook likes his leadership at safety.

"He's working some at safety also. Tavon is a voice back there. He's a calming effect as well. You can put him in there, and he can get us lined up."

Green has made a positive impression in his four days at cornerback. He began the week working on the boundary side behind Wilson, but he has begun to work both that and the field side according to Zook.

"I've seen him for a couple days. I've been very impressed with the way he's played. He's kind of a natural guy. He's just got to learn the defense, which he will. He'll play both sides."

Zook is no doubt hurting from the rash of problems in an area that lacked depth from the start. But he is still cares more for his players than himself.

"That's the game of football. Things happen. I feel bad for Shoop (Supo Sanni) and Terry. Those are the guys that are suffering."

Zook is also aware of the cycles of life as they relate to football. He's seen things like this before, and he's hopeful the sudden rash of problems is now concluded.

"Usually, you usually see it go in a rash like that, and then that position's good."

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