Eifler finds fresh start with Illini football

Eifler finds fresh start with Illini football

CHAMPAIGN - Milo Eifler could have stayed in Seattle and played this year for Pac-12 favorite Washington. But the linebacker wanted a change.

He found it at Illinois. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is sitting out this season and will be eligible in 2019. He has two more seasons left to play.

"I just needed a fresh start," Eifler said.

Why Illinois? It's a multi-tiered answer. First, he was familiar with the coaching staff, especially defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson.

Before joining Lovie Smith's staff at Illinois, Nickerson was Eifler's coach at Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd High School.

Eifler got his release from Washington and called Nickerson.

"The decision was pretty easy," Eifler said.

Part two of the move had to do with linebacker need at Illinois. Starter Del'Shawn Phillips is a senior and will be done when Eifler becomes eligible. Dele Harding, another top linebacker, is a junior.

"I can compete for my position and learn from some of the best coaches in the nation," Eifler said.


Eifler's hometown of Oakland is part of a metro area with 8.7 million people. It's a tad bigger than Champaign-Urbana.

"When I flew in from Chicago, that puddle-jumper that you take here, I was looking out the window like, 'Where's the city?' " Eifler said.

Eifler is getting used to it.

"I'm only two hours away from Chicago," Eifler said. "Living out in the Midwest isn't so bad.

"I'm still getting adjusted. We'll see when students get on campus. Here (at training camp) it's just me and the guys. Good bonding time. It's been a big adjustment not to have that city experience."

The other linebackers welcomed Eifler.

"They're great," he said. "A pretty funny group. We keep the meetings pretty interesting."

Eifler is enjoying practices.

"It's my third fall camp, so the grind, I'm kind of used to it, waking up and the long days." Eifler said. "But it's definitely a fun experience out here with a new team and a new position coach. The guys really want to win. It's going to be a good season and I can't wait to strap it up next year."

Eifler is studying communications. After football ends, he wants to be a sports analyst or a personal trainer.

"Work with guys who are going to the NFL combine," Eifler said.

Bright future

The Illinois coaches are excited about Eifler's potential. And his ability to fit their defense.

"He's a great kid," Nickerson said. "He's very athletic. He can do a lot of things on the field. He's the kind of guy who can really do well in our system."

"It's the profile we're looking for at the linebacker position," Lovie Smith said. "Speed, quickness, he can jump out of the gym. A physical player, too. We're going to have to wait for him a year, but it will be well worth the wait. I think he's going to be an outstanding football player someday."

A four-star prospect in high school, Eifler had offers from Michigan, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA and others.

"Very talented," Nickerson said. "I think he's got a great opportunity here."

Though he can't play this season, Eifler will still help. Both Nickerson and Smith want him to be part of the leadership group at linebacker.

"The plan for him is to learn the defense and become like a coach," Nickerson said. "No different than Jake Hansen, who was hurt last year and had an opportunity to really dig in on the defense, the fundamentals, the understanding of the defense. This is an opportunity for Milo to come in and do the same things that Jake did last year."

Eifler likes the role.

"I can help the linebacker room by watching film and studying our opponents," Eifler said. "Little stuff with the techniques and what the O-line might do. I'll see if I can make a play sheet for some of them so they can read it on Friday night before the game."

Thanks to the staff connections, Illinois is going to continue to recruit more players from California. Eifler wants to help.

"You feel that Cali connection," Eifler said. "Back home, I still have some friends in high school that want offers. I'm still reaching out to my guys and saying, 'Hey, come to Illinois. You can play early.'"