Asmussen: Howard, Rice await call

Asmussen: Howard, Rice await call

 

The news arrives late this morning.

Greg Colby has his fingers crossed. And his toes.

At 11:30 a.m., the latest class for the College Football Hall of Fame will be announced from Irving, Texas.

Illinois defensive line coach Colby hopes to hear a pair of familiar names called: Dana Howard and Simeon Rice.

The former Illini stars are on the ballot for the first time. Illinois hasn’t had a player selected for the Hall of Fame since David Williams was picked in 2005.

Colby, entering his second year on Tim Beckman’s staff, knows all about Howard and Rice.

Back in the late 1980s and early  ’90s, Colby worked with the pair as part of John Mackovic’s and Lou Tepper’s Illinois staffs. Colby got a daily look at their intensity, their drive, their talent.

Seeing their names on the ballot is no surprise to Colby.

“That just validates the players who were here at that time and the success that we had,” Colby said. “It shows if you have those kind of players, you are going to have success. Coaching is important, but players are more important. Those guys were great players.”

Howard won the 2004 Butkus Award, and Rice was an All-American. Those honors helped them gain spots on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Rice was called a “rush linebacker” at the time, but was really more of a defensive end. His job: get the quarterback. He did it well, setting Illinois records for sacks and tackles for loss that will likely stand forever. His 441/2 sacks are 22 more than the No. 2 guy on the Illini list (Scott Davis). That’s called lapping the field. 

Howard was the epitome of a middle linebacker, setting the Big Ten record for career tackles. And nobody is close on the Illinois career list. His 595 stops are 94 more than No. 2 John Sullivan.

Besides his time with Rice, Colby also worked with Kevin Hardy. Someday soon, Hardy will be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

“I was a pretty good coach back then,” Colby said.

Howard gained notoriety in 1994 by “guaranteeing” a win against Ohio State. Which he delivered.

“I thought ‘What the heck is he doing?’ ” Colby said. “He’s that kind of guy. He had confidence in us as a team. If you are going to say it, you better come through. He had the ability to do it. That’s why he’s a great one. That’s why he’s on that ballot.”

When Colby first saw him, the coach wasn’t sure if Howard was big enough to play the position. But size isn’t all that matters.

“He was physical. He was a good technician and he had a great nose for the ball,” Colby said. “And he was a great leader.”

 

Bob Asmussen writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

 

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