Rantoul hoping Illini stick around
RANTOUL — It's going to be a shorter stay than usual. And that's OK for the hosts of Camp Rantoul.
Instead of the usual two weeks, the Illinois football team will spend eight days working out in Rantoul. And unlike past training camps, there won't be a Saturday night scrimmage at Bill Walsh Field.
Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams said he was never worried that Illinois would skip Camp Rantoul. But in Tim Beckman's first year as head coach, Williams wasn't sure what would happen.
"The uncertainty is 'What do the coaches need?' " Williams said. "We've had several coaches that have attended the camp on a yearly basis. We were comfortable with their needs and knew what they wanted. Now, with Coach Beckman being there, there is a degree of uncertainty. But I'm sure that we have everything that they need."
Ron Turner was the first Illinois coach to take his team to the former Chanute Air Force Base in 1998. During the next six seasons under Turner, Camp Rantoul was held in every year but 2001, when the fields weren't playable.
When Ron Zook took over in 2005, he continued Camp Rantoul. He enjoyed the NFL-like camp. Turner and Zook had spent time in the NFL before taking over at Illinois.
But Beckman always has had training camp on campus, including during his three years as Toledo head coach.
Williams hopes the Illini return to Camp Rantoul in 2013. And he hopes in the future the session is extended beyond the current eight days.
"We've taken this as an opportunity to put the community's best foot forward," Williams said. "From coach to coach, it all changes."
The facilities have undergone constant updates, including a building replacement this summer.
Williams said Camp Rantoul has been good for the community during the past 14 years.
"People come out not just from Rantoul but from across the state," Williams said. "The positive articles that have been written. And you flip on the television and you see WGN or BTN and they are mentioning it."
The city will continue to have its annual Camp Rantoul dinner with the Illinois coaches. This year's event is scheduled for Thursday.