Supo Sanni lost a year of playing football for Illinois due to surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. He returned and played well in 2011, but concerns were raised again this spring when it was learned he had a problem with his other Achilles. Fortunately, the problem was temporary.
"I got that cleared up. My health is good. They just wanted to keep me out of the spring because they wanted me healthy for the season. We know we need me for the season. So other people got some reps and got better."
The Homewood-Flossmoor product enjoyed a productive summer free from injury. And he's continued that effort in fall drills.
"I've been working hard, just trying to get the kinks and bad habits out we got over the summer. Just trying to make everything perfect."
Sanni is one of 19 seniors on the Illini roster. He is now participating in his fifth preseason camp and has completed his last Camp Rantoul. He has mixed emotions about it.
"It feels good. It's kind of bittersweet. Rantoul has been a part of me for a long time. Just to see the progression of how I was in '08 when I came here to now is amazing. I've been here for five years."
The 6'-3", 220 pounder feels the Illini defense will be strong this season.
"It's coming along real well. We've had a year together and have a lot of people coming back. We have that chemistry now. With the seniors that we have on this team, we know what to do in game situations and are able to play together and come together as one."
The UI offense is learning an entirely new system, and most presume it will need time to develop consistency. Must the defense carry them early in the season?
"No, not at all. We know the offense is gonna get it done on their side. What we can do is continue to get them better and continue to get ourselves better by playing hard and playing against the level of competition we play against."
Sanni says the defense believes in itself but realizes the necessity of respecting and preparing properly for each opponent.
"We do have some confidence, but it's subtle confidence. We do know we will face some good teams, including our first game opener with Western Michigan. We know what we've got going against us, and we're ready to take on the task."
The fact the new defense brought in by head coach Tim Beckman is not entirely new to them helps.
"Yeah, very similar. It's just different terminology. Now it's just getting acclimated and getting everybody running together."
New defensive coordinator and safety coach Tim Banks has been helpful to Sanni.
"I think he's a good coach. I really like him. He's really intellectual. He gets in your brain and wants to attack you mentally. I think that's the way to be. He doesn't holler much, he's just a perfectionist."
If Sanni can stay healthy and combine his size and athleticism with the experience he's gained in the past, he should enjoy his best season on Zuppke Field. If so, the Illini will benefit.