Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Prelude To A Sports Season

As the calendar turns to August, the Fall sports season is just around the corner all over campuses across the country. This promises to be an exciting fall at the University of Illinois, as Ron Zook's third football team takes the field in just about a month. There has been a lot of optimism surrounding the football program lately, and for good reason. Zook has brought in several top shelf recruits, and continues to find more pieces to the puzzle. Excitement is also rampant around the Champaign-Urbana area, not to mention the state of Illinois, as ticket sales continue to set records. As of late last week, the entire south end of Memorial Stadium is sold out, and with season ticket sales pushing 34,000 for 2007, tickets may be a tough commodity for the Illini this season. Now, even though the Illini look good pn paper, we all know that they do not play games on paper, or any parchment for that matter. The games are won on the field, and for this to be a successful season, the players and coaches need to bond together on and off the field. The annual Illini Media Day is set for Sunday, August 5, and that signals the official start of training camp, set to begin on Monday, August 6 in Rantoul. The defensive coordinator for the Illini last season, Vince Okruch, has taken a leave of absence from the team, and on Friday, Zook hired Mike Woodford, who has coached with Zook at both Florida, as well as with the New Orleans Saints. Woodford brings a defensive mind to the squad, and since he is already familiar with Zook's style of defense, that only adds to the optimism. Okruch, whose long-range plans have not been determined, was brought in last year.

The first game is still weeks away, and already we have a change in the broadcast booth for the Illini color commentary position. Howard Griffith, who was hired to replace the retired Jim Grabowski, took a job with the Big Ten Network as a studio analyst. Replacing Griffith in the booth is Kurt Kittner, former Illini quarterback and NFL quarterback. Listening to Kittner this morning on the radio, he is excited about the opportunity, but needs to refine his speaking skills a bit. However, he should complement Brian Barnhart in the booth pretty well.

And while we're on the subject of the Big Ten Network, fans around the area and the midwest in general are not sure if they will be seeing the network when it launches on August 30. So far, only Direct TV has signed on to air the new network, with other cable companies still in negotiations with the network. And as of right now, Dish Network has not made a decision to offer the channel either. (I have Dish and after several calls to their customer service department, I get the same response -- their plans are still up in the air at the moment). This undoubtedly will cause some people an inconvenience, especially if they cannot watch their beloved Illini this fall. While it seemed like a great idea at its inception, the thought of many cable and satellite companies still not on board makes this a decision that maybe needs some additional thought.

So tell me what you think. Are you one of the people who may be shut out of seeing the Big Ten Network? How does that make you feel? Do you even care? I'd be interested in hearing what other people think about this subject.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Dog Days of summer are upon us

Welcome to the Dog Days of summer, that lull in activity that happens every year on the University of Illinois sports calendar. My daytime job, working as a Senior Library Specialist at the Undergraduate Library on campus, allows me to see a lot of people on a daily basis, some of them being athletes. In fact, just yesterday, two incoming freshmen basketball players were seen in the library. Those players, Bill Cole and Mike Tisdale, were flanked by another smaller player, believed to be either Quinton Watkins or Demetri McCamey (I wasn't sure which). If you haven't had a chance to see these big men up close, they are quite tall. Tisdale comes in right around 7' tall, and seems to dwarf Cole, who by his own right is 6'8. So why am I talking about this, you say? No reason, other than that is is nice to see student athletes use the resources that the library has to offer. So many times, you hear of tutors helping the athletes along, and when asked where the library is on campus, you'll sometimes hear "we have a library?" Any more, though, incoming freshman athletes have orientation classes in the library, and need to show up for them to retain their eligibility. I remember a few years back, Dee Brown and Deron Williams frequenting the library often the summer before they began school, perched on the internet reading about what else, basketball. Illinois has been fortunate the last few years to have their athletes graduate on time, and compared to other schools, are pretty successful in that category. With the training schedules in the off-season and the travel itineraries during the respective sports seasons, student-athletes often do not get a lot of time to "hit the books". Therefore, it is refreshing to see these guys and girls make an appearance or two in the library.
Illini football fans will have to wait for the debut of Daries Hodge this fall at Memorial Stadium. Hodge, the talented back from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, did not get a favorable result on one of his test scores, and will be declared ineligible for the fall semester. Hodge still intends on suiting up for the Orange and Blue, so a January enrollment is more likely at this point. Regardless, Coach Ron Zook will be okay at the running back position with or without Hodge. The only detriment to this is the possibility of setting him back behind the others.
I was at lunch with a friend yesterday at an establishment on campus and happened to see Aurrelious Benn eating just a few tables over from where we were. Benn, the ultra-talented receiver from Washington, DC, is a specimen to behold. It will be fun to watch him pair up with Juice Williams this fall on the Memorial Stadium turf on those long plays from scrimmage.
Speaking of football, Camp Rantoul is just about a month away from getting started, and so far in the Ron Zook era, camp has been a fun event to attend. This year should be no exception, what with the likes of the aforementioned Benn, Martez Wilson, Josh Brent, as well as the other talented freshman class that Zook has assembled. So, will you be attending Camp Rantoul this fall? If you are, look for me somewhere on the sidelines. I'll be the one toting a notebook and quite possibly a tape recorder. This should be a fun football season to witness, and given the inexpensive season ticket packages for construction, a lot of people will be on hand to see it as well. Let's just hope that the players can give the fans what they want.....a winning season and a trip somewhere to a bowl game.