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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

     Finally, some good news to report concerning Illinois sports,

     In a summer that has seen much turmoil and disappointment in Illinois athletics, it was a breath of fresh air to finally see something positive play out.

     On Monday afternoon, something that was long overdue finally came to fruition, the basketball court at State Farm Center being named in honor of Lou Henson.  Henson, who coached the Illini from 1975 until 1996, remains a legend in Champaign, and now he has the honor of the court to go along with it.

     Henson, who has been battling health problems the past few months, was in attendance at the event, which was held inside the 77 Club at Memorial Stadium.  With State Farm Center renovations still ongoing and not ready yet, the most logical venue was across the street in a facility named for another Illini great, Red Grange.  Henson wore a mask and rubber gloves upon entering the room, but once he was announced, he took them off and addressed the crowd in attendance,

     This was not a normal press conference, but instead a celebration to honor Henson and his wife Mary, who split time between Champaign and Las Cruces, Nevada, where coincidentally, Henson also has a court named in his honor.  Due to his health concerns, he cut the celebration short and was due to go to a treatment shortly after his visit with family and friends.  There will be an official ceremony the night that State Farm Center reopens for 2015-16, when Notre Dame will pay a visit to Champaign in the Big 10/ACC Challenge,  The court, which will also be used in Springfield at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center for the first five games while State Farm Center finishes its makeover, will be moved and unveiled on December 2nd, the evening of the Notre Dame game.

     A fitting honor for a great man, and it is wonderful to finally see it happening, and even better that he gets to see it happen in person.

     Camp Rantoul wrapped up for the Fighting Illini football team, and the injury bug keeps on biting Tim Beckman's team.  If the recent injuries of the past few weeks were not enough to give Beckman grey hairs, the loss of freshman running back Reggie Corbin will certainly cause the silver to fly.  Corbin was probably a good choice to redshirt anyway this season, but another running back down means that the depth at the position is even thinner than before.  So much that Beckman has been employing cornerback V'Angelo Bentley in the backfield on certain formations.  Freshman Ke'Shawn Vaughn is back to full contact, and has looked fairly confident in early workouts.  The offensive line was a major question mark the past couple of seasons, but some stability and added depth has given the position a much needed boost.

    With senior Ted Karras returning from an injury to anchor the line, the Illini will look to players such as Joe Spencer, Christian DiLauro and Chris Boles to step up their game and provide protection for quarterback Wes Lunt.  A true freshman, Gabe Megginson, could see action this season, but the coaching staff would prefer to redshirt him and get him even stronger for next season.

     The receiving corps have looked good as well thus far, particularly two true freshmen, Sam Mays and Desmond Cain.  Mays, who could pass for an identical twin of Geronimo Allison from the outside, can move very well, and Cain, who is a bit smaller, could provide the extra punch that the Illini need to do some damage to opposing defenses.

     Speaking of Lunt, he will need to stay upright this season if the Illini have any chance of repeating their bowl appearance of a year ago.  Lunt, who has had a history of injuries dating back to his days at Rochester High School, has the arm strength to play at the next level, and with several weapons at his disposal, could have a breakout season if he can remain in action all season long.  Plus, if Lunt does happen to go down with an injury, the backup situation is not the best, with Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. waiting in the wings.  Both Crouch and George have never taken a snap in a college game, so the experience factor is not strong.

     The Fighting Illini women's soccer team has begun their season, and are off to a good start on the young campaign.  The Illini defeated Oakland 4-1 this past Friday night, behind two goals by Janelle Flaws.  Flaws also assisted on another score, and is showing why she is a force to be reckoned with this season.  On Sunday afternoon, the Illini traveled to Normal to face Illinois State and came away with a 1-0 victory on a goal by Reagan Robishaw.  Flaws also assisted on that goal, giving Janet Rayfield's team an early 2-0 start to the season.  The Illini will be back in action this coming weekend, when they welcome TCU to the Illini soccer complex on Friday evening and then will take on St. Louis Sunday evening.  Both games are slated for a 7:00 pm CT start.

     Next week, I will look at the defense and special teams as the season opener draws closer.

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