Top of the Morning, Aug. 20, 2014

Top of the Morning, Aug. 20, 2014

Tim Beckman's football players aren't the only UI students working their tails off in hopes of a memorable season. The school's band members are enduring two-a-days, too, minus the tackling dummies, tubs full of ice water and interview requests from Loren Tate.

Who's got it tougher, the football Illini or Marching Illini? For that answer, we turned to senior and Cincinnati native Joey Neuenschwander, the Wes Lunt of the band. A trumpet player for 12 years, he's one of the Marching Illini's stars. "If you're looking for a band geek," he said, "you have come to the right place."

Whose practices are more demanding?

I could never accurately say whether or not the MI has a more demanding practice than the Illini Football Team. The last time I truly experienced a football practice would be in 8th grade when I actually was on the school team, when the big guys were 5-9 and weighed 165 pounds. Not a very fair comparison. What I do know is that the men on our football team work incredibly hard and the physical fitness and mental acuity required to compete at a collegiate level is far beyond the capabilities of many individuals. However, don't think that means the band has a walk in the park for rehearsals. In order to perform in the Marching Illini, one must be able to march with perfect posture, holding metal weight at a perfectly uniform angle, breathe deep and enough to fill up a football stadium with sound, and that is just the physical side. Mentally, members must memorize music, which includes style, volume and the actually notes, exact points on the field where they are supposed to be, and it all has to be done at the same time as 300 other people. This is true for every college band. Now, imagine what it takes to be named "The Best Band in the Land."

If Marching Illini director Barry Houser were a football coach, he'd be like ...

Coach Houser would work his heart out for his team and give everything he has to support his people and his community, because that's what he does now. It would be all about helping people and he would impact countless individuals. As far as coaching strategy, he would either be fired within one year or be sent to the Hall of Fame, because he would do things no coach has ever done and create new innovative methods of winning a game. Some will work, many will not, but he will be the innovator of these ideas and when others borrow his ideas, they will never stop! #whereitstarted #andneverstops

What's the best thing about practice ... and the worst?

The best thing about practice is the chance to be a part of something larger than yourself every single day. The family that is the Marching Illini impacts so many lives both inside and outside of the organization. It is an honor to be a part of it. The only bad thing about practice is the cold. Have you ever tried to hold a metal tube on your face for 2-plus hours (5-plus hours on game day) when its below freezing? Remember that scene from "A Christmas Story" with the light pole? Very real concerns ...

What's your message to a freshman member of the band as far as what to expect?

Advice for new members: Be ready to learn, grow, and have the time of your life. You will create life-long friendships and you will be challenged. Embrace these challenges as opportunities and know that you will have this Marching Illini family supporting you in everything that you do. If you never give up, you cannot fail. Welcome to the experience of a lifetime!

What does the Marching Illini do to relax after a hard practice?

Shower. It gets pretty gross out there. After that, then it's all about the socializing. We hang out at each other's houses and apartments, and make our way to Murphy's Pub every once in a while to watch some Blackhawks, Bears and Bulls and indulge with some Irish Nachos!

What's the most common band injury?

Probably rolled ankles on the holes and bumps that used to inhabit our field. With new turf, that problem should be resolved, so now the most common injury will be the pain of hard work and the heartbreak at the end of the season.

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