Asmussen | Chesnut the inside man for Illini football

Asmussen | Chesnut the inside man for Illini football

There are lots of jobs on the Illinois campus I would try ... for a day.

President? Easy. Raise faculty salaries, lower tuition and give the students a day off for every football win. I expect a residence hall to be named in my honor.

Athletic director? So much fun. Start hockey, pay the players and put Loren Tate in the Athletic Hall of Fame as a contributor.

Basketball coach? Sign me up. Schedule a 10-year home-and-home with Kansas, bring Kansas State to State Farm Center for a game and tell Ayo Dosunmu he is going 40 minutes in the opener.

But there is one person's job on the Illinois campus I want no part of. Come on down, Trent Chesnut.

The Illinois football manager has been here 19 years — how could it be that long? — and is working with his fifth head coach.

Note that he sticks around when a new coach takes over. Why would you replace someone who knows everything about his business? The answer, unless you are a dope, you wouldn't,

"We get along with the staff awesome," Chesnut said. "It's a great mix of college and NFL guys. They are all very polite and work well with me and my staff and our students. It's been nothing but positive so far."

Training camp is Chesnut's answer to tax season for an accountant. He arrives each day at 6 a.m. and goes home, hopefully, by 10 p.m. That's 16 hours.

Then, he comes back the next day to do it all over again.

"At camp, you're looking at 100 hours a week," Chesnut said. "During the season, it is probably 70 or 80."

Big bucks, right?

"There's no overtime involved," Chesnut said, "You know what you signed up for. But we love the job and love what we're doing."Chesnut, 51, is actually in his 29th year in the business. The Hoopeston native got his start on the staff at UNLV. After a few years in Sin City, Chesnut took over as the football equipment manager at Nevada in Reno (Sin City Jr.).

Chesnut moved back to Illinois in June 2000. His first Illini football training camp was in Rantoul.

Making it work

The team is practicing in the mornings during the season. It will mean some adjustments for Chesnut and his capable crew. They can handle it.

"I think it's going to be OK," Chesnut said. "I'm not a real morning person, but I'm going to have to be. We've done it before with other coaches."

A team of 100 players, plus coaches and staff, keep the equipment room buzzing.

Chesnut has lots of help, starting with longtime assistant John Birdsell.

"I couldn't do things without him," Chesnut said.

Clint Miller serves as an assistant and Glen McGann is his graduate assistant. There are also 14 students, who volunteer for a year, then get paid after that.

"A lot of them are former players who played in high school and they get to stay involved in the game," Chesnut said.

Think about the amount of laundry created. Mountains of it.

The business has changed since Chesnut started back in the day. Social media didn't exist when Chesnut started. Recruiting weekends were simpler then.

"Recruiting is a 24/7/365 deal," Chesnut said.

Over the years, most of the players have been "good guys,"

"They treat you with respect," Chesnut said. "That's all you can ask for."

The reality for most of the players is this is the one time they will have everything they need. For free. It doesn't work that way for the average citizen. They can't just go to someone's office and ask for stuff.

A former Illini got a taste of Chesnut's world this summer. Jeff George Jr. helped out in the Michigan equipment room after the quarterback transferred to Ann Arbor.

"He emailed us and texted us and said he's got a lot more respect for what we do now," Chesnut said.

The coaches and most of the players were gone during the summer. That's when Chesnut and pals are getting their stockpile of equipment.

Clock management

Making sure everything is on time during camp is part of Chesnut's job. He is in charge of the giant clocks set up near the practice fields.

His nightmare scenario?

"If my clocks go down," Chesnut said. "They are basing the whole practice around this clock. How much time's left? If that goes down, it kind of frightens me. We've got to test them out early and make sure the batteries are charged."

Chesnut didn't grow up dreaming of becoming an equipment manager. He went to Southern Illinois where he was the basketball manager for Rich Herrin.

"That's how I got involved with it," Chesnut said.

In his final semester, he worked in the football equipment room. A career was born.

After graduation, he had a phone interview with UNLV, which hired him,

"I had never been west of the Mississippi River before," Chesnut said.

Chesnut still loves the work, He has discovered what I have: the players never age. When the seniors are ready to go, a new set of 18-year-olds replace them.

He has seen players grow from struggling freshmen to NFL stars.

Chesnut watched his own son, Jake, graduate from Illinois. Chesnut got remarried to Janet in 2017 and has three step-daughters,

He is one of the good guys. Someone who says hello every time you see him.

Just don't ask me to change jobs with him,

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at

What we've learned

Illinois held a closed practice Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Pity, it was a pleasant day weather-wise and would have drawn a decent crowd. The team had Sunday off. After more than a week of camp, here's what has beat writer BOB ASMUSSEN's attention:

QB job still open

Everyone thought it would be a battle between returning sophomore Cam Thomas and graduate transfer A.J. Bush. And it still might be. But right now, the top competition to Bush appears to be freshman Matt Robinson. The Californian has been impressive.

Injuries happen

Defensive tackle Jamal Milan, who missed time last season, didn't finish Friday's workout because of an apparent leg injury. If it is serious, it will be a problem for the Illinois defense, which is already thin up front. It might force the first-year freshmen onto the field early.

The kids can play

Robinson isn't the only rookie pushing for early action. Others who appear to be in the mix include receiver Carlos Sandy, defensive tackle Calvin Avery, linebacker Khalan Tolson and defensive backs Delano Ware, Kerby Joseph, Ron Hardge and Sydney Brown. There won't be as many freshman starters as there were last year, but many will play.

Line them up

Nick Allegretti, Kendrick Green, Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski. Those are the starters on the offensive line for the opener against Kent State. The staff wants to lock in a group and have them together as much as possible. Mission accomplished.

Boom shocka locka

That's the best way to describe the punting of Australian sophomore Blake Hayes, who appears to have added distance to his boots. Wonder why it took Illinois so long to recruit a punter from Australia?