RANTOUL — Greg Colby leaned up against a chain-link fence at the end of Monday morning’s opening practice at Camp Rantoul.
“You don’t mind if I stand in the shade?” the Illinois defensive line coach asked after Illinois went through a two-hour practice under the sun and with temperatures in the mid-80s. “I’m an old man.”
The 61-year-old defensive line coach might have more gray hair than he did during his first stint at Illinois from 1988 to ’95.
But he is enjoying coaching at his alma mater again.
And he survived his first Camp Rantoul practice. Gives it a stamp of approval, too.
“It allows you to focus on what we’re doing and not have other distractions that aren’t necessarily big ones,” he said, “but this is all we’ve got to worry about: get up, go eat, go to meetings, go to practice, go to sleep and get up.”
When Colby coached under John Mackovic and Lou Tepper his first time with Illinois, the team held preseason training camp at Memorial Stadium and stayed at the old Chancellor Hotel in Champaign. The Hilton Garden Inn sits there today.
He’s experienced similar training camp setups in his 32-year college coaching career. Most recently at Northwestern, where he was the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator from 2002 to ’07 before he served five seasons as head coach at Millersville, a Division II school in Millersville, Pa.
And he’s got the company line down when he refers to the Wildcats.
“I’ve done this before at one other place,” Colby said. “The school up north. We used to go to Kenosha.”
Colby doesn’t have an easy task ahead. Illinois returns one starter on the defensive line in end Tim Kynard. Tackles Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe are expected to step in after filling backup roles the last two seasons, and Houston Bates is making a position switch from linebacker to Leo.
“We’re gradually getting better,” Colby said. “My guys tend to get up and be grumpy old men to begin with and you’ve got to get them going. We’re trying some different combinations and seeing who looks the best out there right now. It will be a long evaluation process, but I like where we’re at.”
And Colby likes being back in East Central Illinois. The Danville native, who starred with the Vikings during his prep career before playing football and baseball at Illinois and later coached Schlarman football to two Class 2A state titles in 1980 and 1981, is a familiar face for longtime Illinois fans.
He ran into a former Illinois offfensive lineman Jonathan Kerr — who played at Illinois from 1991 to ’94 — this weekend.
“I’ve seen a lot of people,” Colby said. “It seems like every day I see somebody new from the days before.”