CHAMPAIGN — The saying is still intact.
Five, six, in the mix.
Now Donovonn Young (No. 5) and Josh Ferguson (No. 6) just need to stay healthy and productive so both can contribute at the running back position.
Like they want to.
Like how coach Tim Beckman, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and other assistant coaches want them to.
And probably like how the fan base wants them to.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove,” Young said. “There’s a lot behind the number that I have. I don’t look at it as pressure, but I feel like I have a lot to prove to myself just to let people know I can do it, too. I’m blessed that we’ve got a guy like Coach Cubit who has come in, knows what he’s doing and has been around some big-time guys.”
Each has shown glimpses of their potential, but haven’t quite put it all together during the course of a season.
Injuries have marred Ferguson’s Illini career so far.
He has missed 12 of 25 games the last two seasons.
“I’m looking forward to having an injury-free season,” the Joliet Catholic product said. “I’d probably say dumb luck (with injuries), but there’s always things you can do better. It’s been a learning experience as far as me getting to know my body better.”
Young — who led Illinois with 571 rushing yards last year, which was the lowest total for a leading rusher since E.B. Halsey had 525 rushing yards in 2003 — has a slightly different look to his body this year.
“He’s lost a little bit of weight and gotten a little quicker, faster,” Ferguson said. “We’re expecting big things out of him.”
So are some of his other teammates.
“He’s a guy that hits the hole and can take it,” tight end Evan Wilson said. “This (offense) is perfect for him.”
Right guard Teddy Karras thinks so too.
“He’s a big man in the backfield,” Karras said. “It will be good to open up some holes for him.”
Both Young and Ferguson, who could also split carries with sophomore Dami Ayoola, are liking what they’ve seen so far from Cubit’s offense.
“Last year before we even made it to the line of scrimmage, we were doing a lot of east-west running,” Ferguson said. “I like this offense even more because our shoulders are already squared to the line. It’s downhill, which is always cool for a running back. You get to pick your hole and go.”
Beckman knows he has two backs with different abilities.
He's all for giving defenses different options to deal with in the run game.
“I think that DY continues to be that north-south guy who can make you miss or run over you,” he said. “I’ve been impressed with his three days of practice. (Ferguson is) more of a slasher and get him the ball in the open field. I’ve been very impressed. Both of them practice hard.”
Nathan Scheelhaase had his first workout with the reserves.
Don’t read too much into it. He’s still the starting quarterback for Illinois.
Beckman kept up his plan of rotating in quarterbacks throughout this week to throw to different wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.
Scheelhaase, Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt and Chase Haslett worked together Wednesday afternoon as the trio put the Blue squad through its paces in almost a two-hour practice.
“I thought the kids worked hard,” Beckman said. “It was humid and hot, just like you like it as a coach. I thought they did a really good job.”
Beckman said he is pleased with players coaching up other players during practices so far.
“You saw Nathan ... standing out there and helping with Wes,” Beckman said. “I see that from this football team right now, and it’s very impressive to me when they’re all buying in and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
What was learned
Scheelhaase isn’t the only Illini who had honeymoon plans on his mind this summer.
The man he is expected to receive snaps from this season is, too.
Center Alex Hill is engaged to Mariah Smith, a thrower on the Illinois track and field team.
The pair met their freshman year at now-demolished Forbes Hall on campus before they started dating.
Hill, a junior from Slidell, La., and Smith, a West Aurora graduate who just finished her sophomore season with the Illini, aren’t planning to tie the knot most likely until 2015 when both will have graduated.
Scheelhaase married his high school sweetheart, Morgan Miller, in early July.
“It’s actually helped us bond together as a group,” Hill said. “We’re the engaged group.”
Hill added two graduate assistant coaches and one of the team’s strength coaches got married this summer, so he’s picking up advice on numerous topics, from honeymoon possibilities to what food to serve at the reception.
While the majority of Illinois players aren’t thinking that far ahead like Hill or Scheelhaase, it’s possible Hill isn’t the only player on the team who is currently engaged.
“I’ve heard some rumors,” Hill said with a laugh. “I won’t say any names, but I’ve heard some rumors about one of the other guys getting engaged.”
What was said
“I’ve held that weight since January, so it’s not like I’m sloppy out there. I love the weight room. I always get extra lifts in. It’s not hard for me, (and) I like to eat obviously.”
— Left tackle Simon Cvijanovic, who has increased his weight to 310 pounds after playing most of last season between 285-290 pounds.