RANTOUL — Al Seamonson is new to Illinois.
But not to some members of the Illinois staff.
Six months on the job as the Illini outside linebackers coach, Seamonson is back in the conference he started in.
With familiar faces nearby, no less.
Seamonson played receiver at Wisconsin from 1978-81 before beginning his coaching career with the Badgers.
Three decades later, Illinois is the first Big Ten school he’s worked at since his time in Madison from 1982-84.
“Transitioning here has been pretty easy because I’ve got Big Ten roots, I’ve played at all the Big Ten schools and I know the Big Ten,” the 53-year-old said. “I’ve been away from it for 20-plus years, but fortunately I’m coming back and working with guys I’ve worked with before.”
Guys like Tim Beckman. Tim Banks. Mike Ward.
All four were assistants at Bowling Green during the 2000 season before Seamonson left to follow former Bowling Green head coach Gary Blackney to Maryland, where Blackney served as the Terrapins’ defensive coordinator.
Seamonson spent 10 seasons at Maryland working with the linebackers and special teams before he was let go on Ralph Friedgen’s staff. He spent 2011 coaching linebackers at Central Florida before he was fired and did not coach last season.
Illinois running backs coach/special teams coordinator Tim Salem was on staff with Seamonson at UCF in 2011, so Seamonson has coached with half the Illinois staff before.
“It’s cool. Some terminology changes and the things you learn going to other places are different, so when you come together there’s some similiarty things, and yet, there’s some new things,” Seamonson said. “I think it’s easier for communication and knowing what to expect from each other. It makes the work environment much easier.”
Seamonson will work specifically with the STAR and Leo positions at Illinois, coaching players like Mike Svetina, Houston Bates, DeJazz Woods, Dawuane Smoot, Paul James, B.J. Bello, James Crawford and Eric Finney.
“You’re always looking for those bigger, hybrid athletes,” Seamonson said. “When I coached a guy like Shawne Merriman (at Maryland), he was an inside linebacker in high school. We developed him into a standup Leo in a hybrid 4-3 (defense). He ends up being a first-round pick after three years, and he can do all those things. It took him awhile to put it all together, too. As a freshman, you just play in roles. Maybe one of these freshmen can earn a role like that, too.”
Seamonson hasn’t gone away for a training camp since his days at Wisconsin. The Badgers used to go to Holy Name Seminary in Madison.
“It’s different again having to move all your stuff here and take it back again,” he said. “But the isolation and everything that goes on here is what you want in building up a team.”
A team Seamonson is starting to familiarize himself with each passing day. Even if it means he might still have trouble correctly identifying all 105 players who are in camp.
“It’s always hard to remember everyone’s name,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll always tell them, ‘Hey, I’ll know your name if you’re a good player.’ That’ll be easy. To learn everybody right away in six months is hard, but I know my guys and most of the defense.”
— Matt Daniels