UI-Washington: Final Word
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois and its five charter buses arrived at the Chicago Hilton late on Friday night.
Illinois went through its usual walkthrough inside Memorial Stadium on Friday, with the walkthrough ending about 6 p.m. before the team boarded buses to have dinner at the Champaign Country Club.
“We’re doing exactly the same thing that we’ve done in the first two weeks,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “With the youth in this program, we’re trying to keep the schedule the same as much as we possibly can.”
Illinois — which watched “Oblivion,” the science fiction film starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, on the ride up to Chicago — is slated to have a half-hour walkthrough at 10:30 a.m. today at Soldier Field, where the team will stretch and might work on special teams.
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Jonathan Brown, Michael Heitz, Steve Hull and Miles Osei are the captains for Illinois, which is slated to wear its orange jerseys, white pants and orange helmets with the navy blue Block I like it has worn for the first two games.
The players vote on captains the Thursday before each game. Osei was a captain for the Southern Illinois game, and Brown was a captain for the Cincinnati game.
This is the first time this season that Heitz and Hull will serve as captains.
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Game-time temperature at kickoff is forecast to be 69 degrees.
That’s a far cry from the first two games for Illinois this season.
“That’s going to be different,” Beckman said with a laugh. “I might have to wear long sleeves.”
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Defensive tackle Abe Cajuste is questionable for today’s game. Fellow defensive linemen Vontrell Williams and Bryce Douglas and linebackers Ralph Cooper and Henry Dickinson all are ruled out because of injuries.
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Today’s game is the third NFL stadium Beckman has coached at since becoming a head coach at Toledo in 2009. He’s hoping for a better result.
His first team at Toledo lost 38-0 to Ohio State at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Cleveland Browns’ home. The Rockets lost 34-32 to Florida International at Ford Field in Detroit during the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
“As I told the team, not everybody has this opportunity,” Beckman said. “If you look at our practice field, we’ve got it lined like it will be on Saturday with the NFL hashes and the college hashes and the numbers because ... to play at Soldier Field is an outstanding deal for families and student-athletes.”
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Before the Illinois players checked into the Chicago Hilton, the Illinois coaching staff was out in full force in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs checking out high school games.
Illinois recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh understands the importance of this weekend.
“Like we’ve talked about for the last year and a half, for us to win here, we have to win Chicago,” he said. “A lot of times in Chicago, you’re trying to break almost a little bit of negativity around the athletics, around this coach didn’t recruit here. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of breaking the negativity. There’s some key coaches up there that are really on our side. We’ve gotten some kids from some key programs.”
The evaluation period started Sept. 1. This was the first Friday night Illinois assistants went out recruiting. Illinois had assistants at the following games Friday: Montini vs. Wheaton Academy at Wheaton College, Stagg at Lincoln-Way East, Chicago De La Salle at New Lenox Providence Catholic, South Elgin at Neuqua Valley, Nazareth Academy at Chicago Marist, DeKalb vs. Sycamore at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium, Glenbard West at Downers Grove North and Lake Park at Naperville Central.
“Nobody here has ever put a fence around Chicago,” Golesh said. “It’s difficult, but as you build relationships with these coaches and these kids, it’s going to be easier and easier. You’ve got to win the battles you fight. I don’t know what percentage you have to win them at, but you have to win more than you lose.”
Illinois has each assistant coach recruiting a different part of Chicago and its suburbs. Beckman has split it up so the eight assistants have 30 schools each to keep track of.
“We told them, ‘You better know everything about every one of those schools, the kids, the history of the program,’ ” Golesh said. “That’s different than anything I’ve ever been involved with. What it’s done is we really are experts in our own little area now. I feel like I know the young kids at my schools and the coaches at those schools.”
With a bye week coming up after the game against the Huskies, recruiting will become a focal point for Beckman’s staff next week and next weekend.
“Having an open week enables us to get up in Chicago and down near St. Louis, to get out on the road and to get to some of the other areas we’re recruiting,” Beckman said. “We’ll definitely utilize these next two weekends in the Chicago area.”
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Jim Cornelison will get the chance to warm up his vocal cords before Illinois and Washington kick off.
Cornelison, who will sing the national anthem, also is set to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner“ at 2:30 p.m. today before the start of the Dollar General 300, NASCAR’s Nationwide race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.
The 49-year-old Chicago resident — who is well known for his booming national anthems before Chicago Blackhawks home games at the United Center — isn’t worried too much about straining his voice before the Illinois-Washington game.
“The biggest issue for me is sometimes I have a lot of socializing to do before and after I sing,” Cornelison said. “My voice might be a little bit tired, but it won’t be anything like singing for three, four or five hours sometimes like I’ve done during operas.”
Beckman has heard Cornelison sing up close before at the annual golf outing benefiting Randy Walker, the late Northwestern coach.
“It was unbelievable,” Beckman said. “Even before a golf outing, it was phenomenal.”
Cornelison said he enjoys the acoustical setup of Soldier Field.
“Soldier Field gets loud — not as loud as the United Center — because it’s more spread out,” Cornelison said. “With the United Center being closed in, it’s more like a beehive of noise.”
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J Leman only played in one NFL venue during his career at Illinois. Maybe he’s not a fan of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis because Missouri beat Illinois 40-34 in 2007. Or maybe it’s because the BTN analyst, who will call today’s game, grew up in Champaign, attending games at Memorial Stadium before playing there.
“I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but I don’t think there’s anything like walking into a college stadium,” Leman said. “It’s a totally different atmosphere than at a pro stadium. With all the Chicago alums, I think it’s a great idea to have the game in Chicago, and for the recruiting purposes, it’s a no-brainer. But I’m a sucker for college football games at their own stadiums.”
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A large majority of commits in the Class of 2014 for Illinois will be at Soldier Field.
Center Nick Allegretti from Lincoln-Way East, quarterback Chayce Crouch from Newark (Ohio) Catholic, running back Matt Domer from Chicago Mount Carmel, wide receiver Mike Dudek from Neuqua Valley, cornerback Julian Hylton from Lincoln-Way North, linebacker Henry McGrew from Blue Valley (Kan.), defensive lineman Tito Odenigbo, linebacker Austin Roberts from Rice Lake (Wis.) and wide receiver Malik Turner from Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin are all expected to attend the game.
Other key recruiting targets Illinois anticipates showing up include linebacker Nile Sykes from Montini and running back Chris James from Niles Notre Dame in the Class of 2014 along with Class of 2015 recruits like Downers Grove North quarterback David Edwards and Lake Park cornerback Antonio Shenault, among others.