Daniels: Trestman set for C-U visit
CHAMPAIGN — Having a few hundred high school football coaches around Champaign-Urbana in the spring is nothing new.
They’ll arrive the second weekend of April for the annual Illinois High School Football Coaches Association clinic, which runs April 10-12 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign.
The coaches who make the trip will not only get a chance to take in an Illinois practice or hear from Illinois coach Tim Beckman, they’ll also get advice from Marc Trestman. The Chicago Bears coach is scheduled to speak at the clinic on April 11.
“That’ll be awesome to hear him be able to talk to our high school coaches in the state, and for them to listen to him as well,” Beckman said. “I’m excited to hear what he has to say, too.”
Having the spring game on April 12 coincide with the coaches’ clinic is another bonus, according to Beckman.
Along with having the game on a Saturday during the day. Illinois has historically never drawn well for the spring game, unlike some programs in the country (read: SEC schools). Last year’s attendance was only 2,100, but it didn’t necessarily help matters with the game on a Friday night and temperatures in the mid-30s at kickoff.
“It worked extremely well for us last year because we got it nationally televised on BTN,” Beckman said. “That was the whole basis behind having it at night. To have the game on Saturday at the end of the high school coaches’ clinic, we’ll be able keep some of them around for the spring game, and it’ll be a good opportunity for our fans to come out during the day and take in the game as well.”
No surprise for Griffith
Former Illini Howard Griffith wasn’t among those shocked to see defensive coordinator Tim Banks return for his third season at Illinois. Even with the struggles Illinois had defensively, placing in the bottom third in the Big Ten in all defensive categories in 2013.
“You knew that the team was depleted on that side of the football,” said Griffith, now a BTN analyst. “I don’t know from a scheme standpoint if they were outschemed too much, but they need to get more players. With the talent they should have coming in (with the recruits), along with the number of players they’ll have back, you can give Coach Banks an opportunity to be evaluated more fairly that way. I’m not surprised that there weren’t any changes.”
That being said, Griffith understands the 2014 season is potentially a make-or-break year for Beckman and his staff. Recent history says so, too. Gary Moeller is the last Illinois coach who didn’t coach the Illini in a bowl game, and he was fired after three seasons. Ron Zook made his first bowl game at Illinois in his third season. Ditto for Ron Turner. Lou Tepper had coached in two bowl games after three seasons, John Mackovic led Illinois to bowl games in all four of his seasons, and Mike White reached his first bowl game during his third season.
“You watch what they’re doing recruiting-wise, with the juco players they recruited, you see that there’s a shot,” Griffith said. “This is obviously a big year for Tim Beckman.”
Practice in Springfield
Some dates and times may change for spring practices, Beckman said, but Illinois holding a practice at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, April 4, at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin High School won’t. It’s the second practice Illinois will hold at a high school field this spring, with the first taking place at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 14, at Gately Stadium in Chicago.
“Our kids like doing that, so we kind of treat it like an (away) game,” Beckman said. “We get to go out and not only see recruits, but see our fans and let them be a part of our practices.”
Hull prepping for pro day
Highland Park is Steve Hull’s new hometown. Has been for about the past month.
It’s where the former Illinois safety turned wide receiver is training in preparation for a possible shot at the NFL.
Wide receiver is where Hull might land on an NFL team if one takes a chance on him at the NFL draft in May or by signing him as a free agent.
Hull sat down with his family once the season ended to lay out what the next few months would entail. He selected an agent, Chad Wiestling with Sports International Group, and decided to leave his hometown of Cincinnati to train near Chicago.
“We were trying to decide if I should go somewhere warm or go down to Florida to train,” Hull said. “We decided I wouldn’t train in Cincinnati simply because of the outside distractions I felt I’d be vulnerable to. It’s something I’m trying to remove myself from so I can fully devote time to this.”
Hull is training at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, along with a handful of former college players like himself, and a handful of NFL players.
“The thing I like most about EFT is they have Johnny Knox, the former Chicago Bears wideout,” Hull said. “The first day I met with him, talked with him and hit it off right away. We work on route stuff at the facility and at the indoor practice field. I work with him a great deal.”
Hull’s days typically consist of speed training and position-specific drills in the morning before going through weight training and receiving treatment, like deep-tissue massages, in the afternoon.
“It’s split up to where you’re never idle or standing around waiting,” Hull said. “It’s pretty intense, but we’re just working on speed development and fine-tuning details. Getting me stronger and getting me faster.”
Hull is focusing all his efforts on having a successful pro day at Illinois in front of NFL scouts on March 6.
“I’ve heard good things from different teams, but all that stuff is kind of projections,” Hull said. “Projections are subject to change any day. It’s like those recruiting ratings you get coming out of high school. It all comes down to my pro day. If I come out there and lay an egg, projections don’t mean squat. That’s why I’m working to where I feel really, really confident in my pro day.”
Having hauled in 59 catches for 993 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games, Hull displayed some of his playmaking skills at wide receiver. But the majority of those numbers came in November. During his first six games, he only had 13 receptions for 291 yards and one touchdown. And staying healthy — shoulder injuries plagued Hull in his three seasons in the defensive backfield at Illinois — is another area Hull will have to reassure teams.
“I feel like at times I was kind of behind, but I made up for that with my work ethic to get back to where I could perform the last few weeks of last season,” Hull said. “Now I feel fully confident in my skills and my routes.”
The route to possibly latching on with an NFL team will play itself out in the next three months for Hull. He’s making sure he does all he can to ensure his football career continues before he pursues a law enforcement career.
“This is something that I even forgot during my duration at Illinois is I went there to play receiver,” he said. “I made the switch to safety a week before my debut because the team needed it. I made that change just so I could help the team. I didn’t care where it was. If I could contribute, I would be happy to do it. When I finally got this chance this year to go back to wide receiver, I was so overjoyed with the opportunity. Each year I watched that pro day at Illinois, I’d say, ‘Man, if I’m at the right position and get this training, this stuff will pan out.’ Now I’m trying to make the most of this opportunity.”