Tough sledding: Illini hope hard work pays off

Tough sledding: Illini hope hard work pays off

CHAMPAIGN — If you haven't seen Reggie Corbin in a while, you might not recognize him.

Oh sure, he still has the blond hair. No change there.

The difference between Corbin of 2017 and this year's model is his size.

He put on 18 pounds. Not by eating jelly donuts and pizza.

Corbin cut out many of his favorites (bye-bye to fried chicken) in favor of a healthy diet. Lots of baked chicken.

"I haven't had fried chicken in about a year," Corbin said. "It's tough. Everything's baked."

Why the added weight? Corbin wants to improve his durability during the season. The now 200-pound running back figures to have a better time in the rugged Big Ten.

Working with strength coach Joey Boese, Corbin has added strength, speed and size.

"When you put on muscle, you feel a lot better. I'm happier," Corbin said. "Spring ball was the first event that I've actually lasted the entire time. Knock on wood. It went really well."

As a sophomore, Corbin carried the ball just 18 times for 78 yards in eight games. That followed the 2016 season, when he ran for 523 yards.

The bigger, stronger Corbin participated Sunday in Illinois football's annual Lift for Life. The event, organized again this year by offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, raises money to fight rare diseases. This year's fundraiser is at $29,000 and counting.

 

Turning point

In Corbin's first two years on the field, Illinois won five games overall. He is on his third offensive coordinator.

Like the rest of his teammates, Corbin is ready to win. And he senses a change coming.

"It's one of those things that you can't really initially see, but you can feel it," Corbin said. "The vibe is different. The chemistry is different.

"It's more of a family atmosphere. Our workouts are a lot harder, but we're doing a lot better."

It might not be obvious on the field.

"I don't think we'll know until it happens," Corbin said. "I think everybody else will see it before we do,"

The question, of course, is what the improvement will mean in terms of wins?

"We know deep down inside that we're a really good team," Corbin said. "We're going to compete every game and we're going to go out and we're going to try to win every game. The expectation is different."

 

Taking stock

The Illini closed the season with a blowout loss to rival Northwestern.

"The guys who were staying, we knew who was staying, we got together and we said, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do. We're done losing.'"

Four new coaches were added to the staff, including offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

Corbin likes Smith's style. And his offense.

"He yells at us, but he yells at us with passion out of love," Corbin said. "He's not trying to tear you down. It's amazing. Our relationship is building every single day."

Corbin wants Smith and running backs coach Thad Ward to be critical.

"It pushes me," Corbin said. "I don't take it personally. I want the best for the team."

Smith promises to feature the running game. The quarterbacks will be part of it. So will Corbin, Mike Epstein, Ra'Von Bonner and the rest of the tailbacks.

"If we win, I'm all good," Corbin said.

Smith will use the running backs in the passing game. Corbin is ready.

He had one drop in 2017 — the last play of the finale against Northwestern.

"I was heartbroken," Corbin said. "That haunts me to this day. I pride myself on catching."