UI football: The week that was

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Each Sunday during Illinois spring football, beat writer Bob Asmussen will wrap up what he saw and heard from Ron Zook's team:

NOTES

— Former Illini defensive tackle Corey Liuget has been invited to the April 28 NFL draft in New York. It didn't take Liuget long to accept the invitation.

"It's been a dream of mine since I started playing football," Liuget said Saturday.

So, when his name is called, Liuget will go to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and give him a hug.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Liuget has visits scheduled with different NFL teams. The fact that he's been invited to New York is a great sign he'll go in the first round. Some projections have him among the first 15 picks.

Liuget is staying involved with his former team, leading the Illini during their prepractice stretch Saturday afternoon.

"I know Corey would give an awful lot to be out there with us right now," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "Hopefully, things will work out for him and he'll be fine. It was fun to see the players react. It comes from the heart with Corey. He loves this place."

— Turns out, there was a good reason Jon Gruden didn't make it to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association clinic. One all regular fliers will understand.

Zook said Gruden's flight from Tampa on Thursday was hit by lightning.

"Jon calls me and they're on the tarmac," Zook said. "I could tell Jon was shook up. He said 'There are fire engines going around the plane.' He said, 'Zooker, I think I'm done flying for the day.' "

Zook said Gruden plans to attend next year's clinic.

The clinic went on without Gruden, who was replaced as featured speaker by Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino.

"It's wall to wall ball," Zook said. "It's 36 hours of straight ball. It's good for us because it gives us an opportunity to get around the coaches and get to know them."

— You know Illinois is looking for a starting offensive tackle, defensive tackle and tailback. But you might not realize there is also an opening at holder.

Anthony Santella handled the job for two years, but the former Illini punter is out of eligibility and waiting for his chance to try pro football.

Receiver Tim Russell, a sophomore from St. Charles, held for kicker Derek Dimke during Saturday's practice. Safety Steve Hull will also be tried.

"Tim's done a nice job of it," Zook said. "Derek will have as much to say about it as I do. It's who he feels comfortable with. I think Derek's got a chance to be as good a kicker as there is in the country. I want to make sure we do the right things to keep him where he is."

QUOTES

— "I told Craig we aren't moving him over there to be a backup, we are moving you over there to play. What was really exciting about it is that he was excited about it and the defensive guys were excited about it." — Illinois coach Ron Zook on moving Craig Wilson from offensive tackle to defensive tackle.

— "I've had a season in Coach (Paul) Petrino's offense. Walking out Day One (in 2010), we didn't know what to expect in the offense. We didn't know what to expect from him. Now we know how he coaches us. We know what we're expected to do each and every day. It's a lot more comfortable." — Illinois starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

— "I know he's here. To be honest, I coach every day like he was here. I fly around and work hard like he is watching me. Everyone has someone in their life they want to do their best for and that's definitely who it is for me." — Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino on his dad, former college coach Bob Petrino Sr., attending practices.

ANECDOTES

— Nate Bussey could still be on the field. And he knows it. While watching Thursday's morning workout, Bussey discussed how important spring football can be, especially for players trying to earn their spots for the following season. Last spring, Bussey established himself as a starting linebacker and followed through by finishing second on the team in tackles. Now, Bussey's career is on hold as he waits for the upcoming NFL draft and potential free-agent signings. The Washington, D.C. native is working out at Illinois and keeping tabs on his former teammates.

— Another former Illini has been spending more time with the program. Dana Howard was at the first day of spring practice, hanging out with Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther. It was his second visit in less than a month (Howard also watched the school's pro timing day). With strong ties to his alma mater East St. Louis and the entire St. Louis area, Howard is an asset for Illinois in recruiting.

— The first week of practice brought high-level recruits to Champaign-Urbana, including Rochester quarterback Wes Lunt. He visited Thursday with his dad and talked afterward with the Illinois coaches. Illinois, Michigan State, Louisville and Boston College are among the schools that have made offers to Lunt. Bremen running back David Smith also visited Thursday. He has offers from Illinois, Minnesota, West Virginia and others.

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kfj wrote on April 03, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Saturday's practice was great to.watch. Paul Petrino 's parents were at the practice. I sat the row behind them. Illini nation...come to practice to see the team. They look better than ever these days! It's a joy to support the team.