George Jr. ready to take advantage of opportunity

George Jr. ready to take advantage of opportunity

CHAMPAIGN — It is going to be a busy spring session for Jeff George Jr., the only scholarship quarterback able to practice. The son of the Illini great is all for it.

“I’m good.” George said after Tuesday’s opening spring practice. “It’s always great to get back out there working. This is what we’re here for.

“I’m just doing whatever the coaches tell me to do. They’ve got the plan. They know what they’re doing.”

George was a part-time starter in 2016. He led the team to a win against Michigan State before Wes Lunt took over as starter for the final game of his career.

George said he isn’t worried about getting a tired arm.

“I’m utilizing the reps I’m given and making the most out of every single one,” George said.  “Every day you go out there and practice is an opportunity to get better and improve on things, especially with spring ball. You don’t have a game to prepare for. You’re just out there really focusing on mastering your craft individually as well as just bringing it together as a team and developing that camaraderie.”

This spring is different for George, who is working with a familiar offense.

“This is just the time to refine all the little details and further dive into what the coaches are thinking,” George said.

Chayce Crouch, who started in the victory at Rutgers, missed the rest of the season after suffering a shoulder injury.

Crouch will attend all the practices and do work on his legs, but won’t be involved in any contact.

“He’s great,” George said. “He’s out there watching all the little things, the footwork, when I’m out there throwing. We all help each other in any way we can when we are out there.”

George looks forward to the competition in training camp.

“You play for those fall games,” George said. “We’re just using this time to grow with the new guys that are here and get them caught up to speed.”

What have the coaches told George he needs to work on?

“Just managing the game,” George said. “Last year, being a first-year guy, I’ve got out all the jitters. I’ve played. You’re not new anymore. Now, it’s just grow and get better every single day.”

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Last time we saw Kendrick Foster on the field, he was leaving it against Northwestern.

The senior-to-be, who led the Illini in rushing last season, suffered a hip pointer at Northwestern.

“Unfortunately, I cut the defensive end, and his knee ran right into my hip,” Foster said. “You never realize what you use your hip for. A lot of things. When I got hurt, I couldn’t explode off my leg. It was a scary moment.”

After a month of rest, Foster’s leg is all healed.

“I’m back 100 percent healthy,” Foster said. “The medical staff did a great job rehabbing me and getting me back.”

Foster’s college career has taken a dramatic turn since last spring. He contemplated an offseason transfer, but decided to stay. Good move.

He is comfortable in Garrick McGee’s offense. And with the staff.

“We’re so much more close with our coaches,” Foster said. “And with our teammates. This program has been through a lot since I’ve been here. We finally have a solidified staff and a solidified playbook. It’s exciting.”

The three-time News-Gazette All-Stater has high team goals for 2017.

“Let’s go to a bowl game and go win the Big Ten and just believe in ourselves,” Foster said.

Foster has extra duties this spring beyond school and football. He is helping out the athletic department as part of his degree program.

“I’m learning a lot behind the scenes, from advertising and ticket sales, the whole nine yards,” Foster said.

Foster and the running back room lost a player after last season. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who led the team in rushing in 2015, is transferring to Vanderbilt.

“I’ve been trying to lead him and be a big brother to him since he got here,” Foster said. “It’s tough. We still communicated. We still talk to each other. We’ve just got to move on and focus on the Illini.”

In the fall, Foster won’t be the only Kendrick on the team. Kendrick Green, a defensive lineman from Foster’s hometown Peoria, signed with Illinois earlier in the month.

“I’m really excited,” Foster said. “I like the Peoria pipeline coming to Champaign. It’s going to be fun. We always trash to each other. That’s my little brother.”

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The new coach is on the way. But Lovie Smith can’t talk about him. Yet.

Former NFL All-Pro defensive back Donnie Abraham is set to join the staff this week. But he won’t be official until all of his paperwork is complete.

“We’re close to being able to name another coach,” Smith said.

With a temporary opening Tuesday, Smith worked with the Illinois safeties.

“You have a free safety each play, and the free safety is normally free to roam in the middle of the field, unless someone is uncovered,” Smith said. “Then you have to guard them.

“I’m kind of the free safety a little bit right now. Down one coach, I’ve coached a little bit of defensive ball. It was good to have to take a position today. I really enjoyed it. I love teaching. I played safety and I feel pretty comfortable coaching most of the positions out there.”

Spring football is earlier this year for the Illini, who will finish their workouts in early March.

“You need a football fix as much as anything,” Smith said. “We wanted to get an early look at what our football team will look like. With the new year, you have guys move into different roles. Who will be the leaders of our team? Who will be setting the pace?”

The team worked Tuesday on the Memorial Stadium turf. If the weather turns nasty, the Illini will use the Irwin Indoor Facility.

Smith is holding about a dozen players during the spring, including receiver Mikey Dudek, who is recovering from his second ACL surgery.

“The numbers are down, but as a player, you should be pretty excited about that,” Smith said, “Guys always want reps. Everybody on our roster will get a chance,  will get a good look.”

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Moonpie wrote on February 15, 2017 at 8:02 am

If it's to be Young Master George behind center, then Episode Two of Lovie Dovie Savior Man Comes to Town may not be so epic. Maybe Ancient Tate will scold us for doubting Young George's regal bloodline. 

Maybe Ancient Tate will reveal that Young Master George is also related to Red Grange!

Pull for a healthy Crouch to at least give them something.

zuppke wrote on February 15, 2017 at 3:02 pm

News Gazette Headline:

Sunny skies and unseasonably warm temperatures forecast for the central Illinois area over the next 10 days.

Moonpie post:

Here we go again; The SleepyGazoo and Cheerleader Tate failed to mention that rain is predicted for early March.