UI-SIU: Final Word
CHAMPAIGN — The two Peoria Charter buses were waiting in the alley behind Memorial Stadium on Friday evening.
Dinner at the Champaign Country Club awaited the Illinois football team after a two-hour walkthrough Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“We use Friday night as fellowship, so the team gets together,” said Tim Beckman, whose team held an elective team chapel inside Memorial Stadium prior to the walkthrough. “I’ve been around great Friday nights. What I tell the players is that it’s special. Our Friday night is unbelievable.”
After dinner, the team went back to the Hawthorn Suites in Champaign for meetings and a team movie.
Beckman planned to take in part of his son Alex’s varsity debut as Urbana’s quarterback before going back to the Hawthorn. The Tigers hosted Normal Community.
“I’ll be a little bit late for it,” the elder Beckman said with a laugh, “but it’ll be all right.”
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Beckman said he bought breakfast for the Block I, Illinois’ student section.
Beckman also plans on throwing hats to the crowd on the Illini Walk as the team makes its way to Memorial Stadium.
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Tim Kynard, Corey Lewis, Miles Osei and Nathan Scheelhaase are the Illinois captains for today’s game. Beckman said Illinois plans to name its captains for every game the Thursday night before a game all season.
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Southern Illinois arrived in Urbana late Friday afternoon, spending the night at the Holiday Inn.
Dale Lennon’s team was set for a half-hour walkthrough at Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We would have liked to have been in the afternoon, but we weren’t allowed to go in the afternoon,” Lennon said. “We took the time they gave us.”
Team meetings and dinner were on the Salukis’ itinerary before going through their paces inside the stadium. SIU plans to arrive at Illinois’ home field at 9 a.m. today.
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This is Lennon’s second trip to Memorial Stadium with the Salukis.
Southern Illinois lost 35-3 to the Illini during the 2010 season, Lennon’s third at the school.
He knows he doesn’t have to do much to get his players hyped for today’s game.
“Any time you play on the big stage, it’s always a good way to start your season, and it definitely adds a lot of motivation in the offseason for the players,” Lennon said. “That’s the benefit of it, and then we’ll see where we’re at as a team.”
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Illinois is slated to have 14 high school recruits on campus today.
Linebacker Austin Roberts from Rice Lake (Wis.) is the only Class of 2014 commit scheduled to take in the opener.
Other Class of 2014 prospects scheduled to visit are Orland Park Carl Sandburg offensive tackle Yanni Demogerontas, Joliet Catholic wide receiver Jordan Jones, Wheaton North wide receiver Matt Biegalski, guard Brent Morrow from Ladue Horton Watkins (Mo.), linebacker Zack Matthews from Rockford Boylan, and offensive lineman Joe Komel and defensive tackle Justin Diddel from Kaneland. Cornerback Kei Beckham from Trotwood-Madison (Ohio), wide receiver Miles Boykin from New Lenox Providence Catholic and defensive tackle Jordan Geese from Mahomet-Seymour are the Class of 2015 prospects set to attend.
Two Class of 2016 recruits from Northview (Ala.) High School in quarterback Tyler Marshall and wide receiver Kolby Easley, along with 2016 quarterback prospect Luke Salem from Holy Family High School in Victoria, Minn., are lined up to visit.
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J Leman nearly had the entire Illinois roster memorized in April.
The 28-year-old Champaign native and former standout linebacker under Ron Zook will get another chance to work the microphone today. Leman called Illinois’ spring game for BTN. He’s on the call again for BTN, helping out play-by-play announcer Chris Denari with his expert analysis.
Today marks a busy monthlong stretch of football on the BTN for Leman. He’s set to call the Purdue-Indiana State game next Saturday in West Lafayette. His third game of the season will find him at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sept. 14 for the Illinois-Washington game. And he’ll handle sideline reporting duties Sept. 28 in Champaign when Miami (Ohio) visits Memorial Stadium.
“I’ve got a little Illinois fever the next month,” Leman said. “I’ll always love the University of Illinois, but now that I’m a member of the media, I don’t root for any team. But I’m always excited to come back to Champaign.”
And excited to see what his former position group looks like at his alma mater.
“I see an inexperienced defensive line and secondary at Illinois, but I see that the heart of the defense is the linebackers,” Leman said. “As a former linebacker, that gets me really excited because I think they’ve got some playmakers there. Jonathan Brown is probably the most polished and biggest playmaker, but Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina seem to be a very solid group.”
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Leman played on the first 2-10 team in school history. He knows what some of the returning Illinois players feel like. Sort of.
That 2006 team lost seven games by 11 points or less. Conversely, Beckman’s first team that finished 2-10 only had one loss decided by less than a touchdown. Six losses were by 28 points or more.
“We were really close to beating teams,” Leman said. “We just didn’t finish. We knew we were getting better.”
Of course, the 2007 Illinois team Leman helped captain went 9-4 and played in the Rose Bowl. Narrow losses to Missouri, Iowa and Michigan that season prevented what Leman thinks was a national championship- caliber team.
“I think that offseason during the summer of 2007, our seniors just made a decision that our main goal was to turn the program around,” Leman said. “We wanted that year to showcase a different Illini team. We were very, very close to winning all three games we lost in the regular season. You could have seen Illinois in the national championship game that year. I don’t think anybody knew how good we were going to be, but we did.”