CHICAGO — Tim Beckman wished his mom, Pat, a happy birthday. Three times.
It wasn’t the only talking point the second-year Illinois coach reiterated on several occasions Wednesday during the first day of Big Ten Media Days.
His main message from the Chicago Hilton?
Staying positive. Moving forward. Forgetting about the past. Not letting negativity infiltrate the program.
Easier said than done for Beckman and Illinois. Especially coming off a disappointing 2012 season, which fans and media have had eight months to digest.
Beckman probably didn’t need the white microphone with the Big Ten logo.
The booming voice the second-year Illinois coach belted out from atop the podium was easy to hear from anywhere inside the Hilton ballroom.
Who knows if any of the media and fans listening in expect a massive turnaround from Illinois this fall. Coming off a disastrous 2-10 season doesn’t lend itself to warm and fuzzy feelings during the offseason.
“I guess the word I like to use is anxious,” Beckman said. “I’m very anxious to see the progress that this football team has made since the first of December.”
Of course, Beckman, his staff and his players didn’t have a bowl games to prepare for in December for the first time this decade. The Illini are mired in a nine-game losing streak, the longest of any Big Ten team.
“After the Northwestern football game, we came together as a football team,” Beckman said. “We talked about strides that we needed to make as a family, that we needed to make as a football team (and) that we needed to make on and off the football field. I’ve seen progress. And I’m excited about that progress.”
All coaches, players and fans of college football feel that way when the calendar turns to late July.
Nathan Scheelhaase realizes this concept.
“You talk to anyone at a media day across the country ... you’re going to hear a lot of the same things,” the senior said. “Something that’s changed with us is that we’ve become more close-knit. I don’t think it’s something we did have the last few years. Our talent isn’t as great as it’s been over the last few years, but that’s inspired us to be more close-knit and play as one.”
And Illinois can derive some motivation after a group of Big Ten beat writers picked Illinois to finish last in the Leaders Division, the same spot Illinois finished last year.
“I’m sure nobody here is picking us to really do anything this year,” Scheelhaase said. “That’s all right. This is a great opportunity to bounce back. I think that’s what everybody is looking forward to.”
Illinois right tackle Corey Lewis has seen Illinois’ high moments.
Ron Zook recruited him to Champaign fresh off a Rose Bowl appearance. And he’s seen the program at its lowest moments. Like last year.
“The Illinois fans really want a winner,” he said. “Anytime we have any type of success, you really can see how much they embrace us. Understandably, they want a consistent winner. I really hope to give them that this year.”
Defensive end Tim Kynard understands if doubt exists what will transpire.
“It’s hard because of what happened in the past, but guys got to keep working every day to get better,” he said. “We hang out with each other a lot just to know who we’re going to be playing with. We get their trust, it’s going to be hard for negative thoughts to creep into our heads.”