Miami junior tackle Corey Liuget has been a fixture on the Illinois defensive front for two years now. Highly rated out of high school, he has shown his potential only occasionally as weight problems and injuries took their toll.
Liuget has made a commitment to this season. He has lost weight and is ready to play at 290 pounds. He believes that will help his game considerably.
"Oh yeah, it definitely has helped. I feel a lot better chasing the ball and getting to the passer. Last year I was overweight, 25 pounds up, and I wasn't quite myself. I didn't feel the same."
Sprained ankles have also contributed to inconsistency both seasons. Liuget returned from those injuries before they were completely healed, further reducing his quickness and mobility. Hopefully, they are a thing of the past.
"I hope they're just rare things. I pray to the good man up above that I don't have any injuries or anything this year so I can really put on a show for you guys."
Liuget had his choice of top schools out of Hialeah High School. Does he have any regrets attending a school that has stayed home during bowl season both years?
"Not at all. It's been a positive experience. I just hear it every time I go home. That's the bad part about it. My guys at Central Michigan and my guys down in Miami. They always talk trash to me. I tell them we'll beat them any given day. I have to back myself up."
Does that make you hungrier to get the last laugh?
"It gets real intense when we talk about that. I want to prove them wrong. That's what we're gonna do this year."
Liuget is pleased with the increased intensity of practices required by new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. He makes you work hard in practice.
"You're gonna have to give everything you have every day in practice. You have to be intense. If not, the practice will not be too nice."
Wasn't it that way before?
"Not at all. This is a different ball game. With Coach Vic on defense and Coach (Paul) Petrino on offense, both are gonna get in your mug when you mess up or don't do something right."
If the defense messes up enough during a practice, Koenning sometimes makes them do a series of up-downs, one for each mistake. Liuget describes a constructive punishment Koenning uses as well.
"I'd say the Pursuit Drill is up now. You line the bells up. Line them up on the 15 yard line. You have the defensive line coach on one side, the linebacker or secondary coach on the other side.
"Whatever coach you point at, they could be 40 yards downfield and you've got to run to them, make a circle, chop your feet, do an up-down and run back to the goal to where the bell's at."
There are some top offenses in the Big 10. Does Liuget believe the Illinois defense can stay with them?
"Oh yeah. The way we're practicing, everyone is buying into the program, the coaches are set. I feel we can."
Why do you think that?
"We call it the coaches' and players' will to win now. We've just put too much into it right now. We know what we're capable of, and now it's a matter of going out and putting it all together."
Is there any doubt in your mind?
"There's no doubt at all."