Wednesday, August 13, 2008
2008 Illinois Football Preview - Part 1
Fans in attendance at the Fighting Illini's annual Rantoul scrimmage on Monday evening were treated to an offensive show that may soon become the norm rather than the exception. And good news for Ron Zook is that nobody got hurt in the process. Rewind one year ago at the scrimmage where wide receiver Chris James (#6, pictured at right) sustained an injury that kept him out the entire season, and receiver Aurellious "Regus" Benn also was banged up, but both of those players came out of this year's event unscathed. The offense looks a bit different starting the 2008 campaign with Rashard Mendenhall now in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Zook knew he would need to replace those carries to make the offense go and build on last season's Rose Bowl appearance. He may have found a couple of answers to that question. Junior Daniel Dufrene and true freshman Jason Ford (#21 below, right) were impressive to say the least, and redshirt freshman Troy Pollard and another true freshman, Mikel LeShoure, also had plenty of chances. When asked about how the scrimmage went on Monday, Zook did not hesitate when he said that this may have been the best scrimmage that he has been a part of in all his years of coaching. Besides the running game, the Illini also expect to do some damage in the recieving corps. Benn, of course, is back, as well as James, who is fully recovered from the injury, and other players expected to make their mark include returning wideouts Marques Wilkins and Chris Duvalt, as well as Will Judson, who made a couple of nice catches on Monday. Joining this trio will be freshmen A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott, two players who figure to be in the mix and could form some interesting formations on offense. The two main tight ends, Jeff Cumberland and Michael Hoomanawanui, also figure to get more involved in the offensive scheme this season.
The offensive line is experienced, with returning players Jon Asamoah, Randall Hunt, Xavier Fulton, Eric Block and Ryan McDonald back for another go. A whole host of freshmen or redshirt freshmen that include the likes of Corey Lewis, Jeff Allen, Jack Cornell, Mark Jackson and Graham Pocic may see some time. As Zook likes to say, there is competition at every position and that could be no more evident than on the offensive line. Pocic, a true freshman that enrolled early, brings a lot of talent to the table and could be a special player before he leaves lllinois. Fans can expect to see more of the high-powered offensive sets that Zook has instilled into his system, and as the recruiting battle heats up for 2009 and beyond, he and the coaching staff continue to bring in the top tier players that can continue what he has begun to build at Illinois.
The Fighting Illini Fan Appreciation Day is set for Sunday, August 17 from 1-2:30 at Memorial Stadium. Fans will get a chance to get autographs of their favorite players, and also meet Coach Ron Zook at the same time. The Illini women's volleyball team will also be on hand to greet fans young and old alike, as well as sign autographs and poster schedules.
With all of this talk about football dominating the past week and a half, there has been plenty of basketball talk as well, with several events that are upcoming that are sure to be crowd pleasers. First of all, "A Night of Legends" is planned for Saturday, September 13th at the Assembly Hall. Deron Williams, current Olympian and Utah Jazz guard, will be one of three players that will have their jersey numbers hung from the rafters of the Hall. A total of 20 men's jerseys and one women's jersey will be honored, and along with Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown will be honored as well. Other players confirmed to attend the event are James Augustine, Roger Powell, Kenny Battle, Victor Chukwudebe and Sergio McClain. This should be one of the most anticipated events of the season. Season ticket holders get first dibs on tickets for the event, and should any remain from those, the general public will get a chance to order them beginning on August 21 at the athletic ticket box office, or online at www.fightingillini.com. Then, on October 11 after the Minnesota football game, the Fighting Illini will hold the world's largest basketball practice, as they unveil a basketball court in the south endzone of Memorial Stadium to begin the 2008-09 basketball campaign. The court, assembled by FlexCourt Athletics of Kewanee, will already be assembled before the football game, so a smooth and seamless transition can occur into the basketball practice. The practice will be similar to the Illini Madness events of the past, with both the men's and women's teams introduced. Three-point shooting and slam dunk contests will also take place. Then, after the scrimmage, the Athletic Department will make available the court to be bid on, so you can take home the actual court used for this event.
Finally, in what will be a huge event for the Assembly Hall, Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz will take on Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls in an exhibition game on Friday, October 17 at 7:30 pm. Tickets for this event go on sale on Saturday, August 23 at 10:00 am at the normal ticket outlets, and range in price from $25 to $70.
Enough Illini sports for ya? Next week I'll preview the Illini defensive alignment as they continue to get ready for their first game in 2 weeks against Missouri.