Thursday's Camp Rantoul report

SURVEY SAYS ...

Each day during Camp Rantoul, we will run survey answers from the Illinois football players. Today's guests:

CENTER GRAHAM POCIC

You are in the Leaders Division. Give us a better name. East, West

What celebrity do people say you look like? Kane and Brian Urlacher

Is President Obama getting re-elected? No

Which of your teammates can sing? Ian Thomas and Tony Durkin

What is your all-time favorite horror movie? "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"

Did the U.S. women's team make you a soccer fan? No

You can have any kind of pet, what's it going to be? Dog

Place in the world you most want to visit? Berlin

RECEIVER JAKE KUMEROW

You are in the Leaders Division. Give us a better name. Bosses

What celebrity do people say you look like? Jesus

Is President Obama getting re-elected? Yeah

Which of your teammates can sing? Ian Thomas

What is your all-time favorite horror movie? "Scary Movie 2"

Did the U.S. women's team make you a soccer fan? No

Favorite food during training camp? Steak

Is golf a sport? Yes

You can have any kind of pet, what's it going to be? Ferret

Nickname you would like people to start calling you? Kooms

Place in the world you most want to visit? Sicily

Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Marissa Miller

LINEBACKER EARNEST THOMAS

You are in the Leaders Division. Give us a better name. Best Division

What celebrity do people say you look like? Denzel Washington

Is President Obama getting re-elected? Of course

Which of your teammates can sing? Ian Thomas

What is your all-time favorite horror movie? "Chucky"

Did the U.S. women's team make you a soccer fan? Yes!!!

Favorite food during training camp? All of it because it's free

Is golf a sport? Yes

You can have any kind of pet, what's it going to be? Lion

Preferred practice time: 7 a.m. or 3 p.m.? 7 a.m.

Nickname you would like people to start calling you? People should call me King

Place in the world you most want to visit? Paris

Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Michelle Obama

IN THE NEWS

MEETING THE BOSS

On the job barely a week, new Illinois athletic director MIKE THOMAS stopped by Camp Rantoul on Thursday.

After the workout, Thomas talked to the players and coaches.

What was the main topic?

"Really that I believe in them and to just continue to do things the right way, continue to go hard, believe in your coaches and believe in your staff," Thomas said. "And also the fact that, 'Hey, you're not getting a lot of positive play nationally right now, but the game's not played in print, it's not played on the airwaves.' I've always said, 'It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't listen to other people's expectations.' That really was my message."

The players liked what they heard, especially when Thomas said he has an "open-door policy."

"It sounds like he is about the team and about athletes," Illinois linebacker TRULON HENRY said. "He said he wants to be involved in our life after we graduate from the University of Illinois. I think that was special."

Illinois quarterback NATHAN SCHEELHAASE said he will make early use of the policy.

"I think it's important for us as student-athletes to have an AD we can get around, get involved with," Scheelhaase said. "In my head, I wanted to say something to him after practice, but I needed to run a little bit and do a little bit of this extra stuff. First week of school, I plan on visiting him. I felt like I had a close relationship with Coach (RON) GUENTHER, and I think the same will go with Coach Thomas."

At Cincinnati, his office overlooked the football stadium, making it easy for Thomas to watch practice.

Thomas said he plans to be involved with the football program.

"I'm around," Thomas said. "Just as I told the kids, it's not just about practice. They'll see me in the training room, hopefully not because I'm the one being attended to. They'll see me in the strength and conditioning room.

"I get engaged but not to the point where I'm at practice every day or they're asking me to call plays for them."

WHIRLWIND TOUR

Thomas spent part of Wednesday in Chicago and St. Louis, meeting with media members and alums.

Thursday was staff meeting day for Thomas, who talked to coaches and athletic personnel in Champaign.

"BRUCE WEBER and I have been exchanging voicemail messages with him being out in Italy," Thomas said. "I'm sure I'll see Bruce at the beginning of next week."

Thomas returns to Cincinnati early this morning before a trip to Chicago on Sunday for STEVE STRICKER's annual Illinois golf fundraiser.

Thomas will be in Champaign on Monday, and there's an athletic board meeting Tuesday. He'll drive back to Cincinnati on Wednesday morning and return to Illinois for good a few days later.

His wife JENIFER and daughter MEREDITH came to Champaign-Urbana on Monday. Meredith Thomas started school at St. Thomas More on Thursday.

Thomas got a quick look at the Camp Rantoul facilities.

"This is a great setup," Thomas said.

READY TO GO

Illinois had another special guest at practice Thursday, somebody it had been waiting on for a few weeks: incoming offensive tackle CHRIS BOLES.

The Ohioan has been cleared by the NCAA to join the Illini and will begin practice today. Because of rules, he will have to be in shorts the first couple of workouts.

"We'll get him out there as soon as we can and break him into it slowly," coach RON ZOOK said.

Boles projects as a tackle.

"I like his athleticism and his toughness," Zook said.

PLANNING AHEAD

When the team returns to campus, it will have morning workouts starting Monday. The time is to be determined, though Zook said it will start between 6:30 and 8 a.m.

"It just depends exactly on the class schedule," he said.

The team had morning workouts during the spring. Zook liked how it worked.

"The players liked it," he said. "At 10:30, they could be regular college students. I'm looking forward to doing it."

SCHEDULE STUFF

The team has a single practice scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday. It originally was scheduled for 3:30 p.m., but Ron Zook decided to move it up.

Some of the players need to go back to campus to make changes in class schedules. Others can move into the dorms.

The final workout of Camp Rantoul will be a scrimmage Saturday. Zook said it likely will start sometime between 10 and 11 a.m.

POSITION WATCH: Linebacker

Back and forth he has gone. Inside linebacker. Outside linebacker. Inside linebacker.

IAN THOMAS is settled in at the place where he made a team-high 95 tackles in 2009. The numbers dropped in 2010, when Thomas moved outside and MARTEZ WILSON resumed his career at inside linebacker.

Now, he's in the limelight position. It isn't something Thomas spends a lot of time thinking about.

"I'm just really focused on coming together as a team," Thomas said. "And just going out there and executing what the coaches want us to do and coming with a lot of energy. That's all I really care about right now."

Thomas is one of the last three players from the Washington, D.C., area on the team. When MIKE LOCKSLEY was on the staff, D.C. provided more than a dozen guys. Now, it's down to Thomas, TRULON HENRY and TAVON WILSON.

"I kind of thought the number would drop a little bit, but I never thought it would be this many," Thomas said.

Thomas has help at linebacker. He is being backed up by sophomore BRANDON DENMARK and freshmen RALPH COOPER and HENRY DICKINSON. The freshmen have played well in training camp and could get on the field early.

At the other linebacker spot, sophomore JONATHAN BROWN continues his track toward the starting lineup. He played well in the spring and is holding off redshirt freshman HOUSTON BATES, who also will see the field early.

COACHING CORNER: Secondary coach Mike Gillhamer

Going into his final weekend at his first Camp Rantoul, MIKE GILLHAMER  is starting to see some separation at his positions.

"We've still got a ways to go," Gillhamer said. "We've still got to be sound techniquewise, and mentally we've got to be sharper. But we've made improvement."

Before training camp started, TRULON HENRY moved to the outside linebacker/nickel spot held last season by NATE BUSSEY. That eliminated one option for Gillhamer at safety, a spot Henry played effectively in 2010.

But Illinois welcomes back SUPO SANNI, who missed last season with a torn Achilles. He didn't practice Wednesday night because of a sore groin but is expected to be ready for the season.

"We've got to keep him healthy," Gillhamer said. "You need reps."

The other safety spot is held by converted receiver STEVE HULL, who made the move to defense in 2010 in part because of Sanni's injury.

"Steve Hull has had a really good fall camp," Gillhamer said. "He has really come on well."

The safeties can switch positions without issue.

"That's what we want," Gillhamer said.

Next in line is PATRICK NIXON-YOUMAN, followed by JACK RAMSEY.

Three returning cornerbacks will be on the field plenty, Gillhamer said. The coaches consider TAVON WILSON, JUSTIN GREEN and TERRY HAWTHORNE all starters.

The fourth cornerback position is a three-way battle between freshmen VALDON COOPER and EATON SPENCE and senior MIAMI THOMAS.

Gillhamer wishes he had more time to prepare for the opener.

"We're making strides," he said.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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kfj wrote on August 19, 2011 at 6:08 am

Good article. I have attended several practice sessions and the team is way better than this time last year! The players are setting a solid foundation for future years to come. Let's support the team and best wishes for a great season. Go Illini!