UI camp notes: Football Performance Center gets $1.2 million boost

UI camp notes: Football Performance Center gets $1.2 million boost

CHAMPAIGN — Funding for the Illinois Football Performance Center got a $1.2 million bump Saturday.

Illinois alums Mark and Bonnie Goldenberg pledged that amount for the under-construction facility.

The Granite City couple attended Saturday's workout at Memorial Stadium with athletic director Josh Whitman.

With the Goldenberg's gift, fundraising for the project is over $10 million.

"My wife, Bonnie, and I are very loyal to Illinois," Goldenberg said. "We believe strongly in our director of athletics Josh Whitman, who epitomizes 'Illini Forever,' and our head football coach Lovie Smith and his program. We look forward to great success in the future and it is our pleasure and honor to support the program with this contribution to the Football Performance Center."

***

Two weeks down, two weeks to go for the Illinois football team.

On Saturday, Smith's third edition hit the midway point in preparation for the 2018 season. The team opens Sept. 1 against Kent State.

The Illini worked out on a perfect afternoon. Fans were in the West stands. It was the final chance for the public to see the Illini in workouts before the opener.

"Good camp so far," Smith said. "Most of the situations we wanted to get in, we have. For our team, it's one thing to practice out on the grass. It's another to be here on our home turf in front of our fans. Young players need to have a good feel for what gameday will be like."

While the players have today off, the coaches will be back at work, evaluating the film from Saturday.

"When we give the players off, we're here," Smith said. "You start training camp and there are no days off. We get a chance to grade this video. That's the next thing on our schedule."

***

The Illini appear to be closer to picking a starting quarterback. Virginia Tech graduate transfer AJ Bush took the bulk of the first-team repetitions.

Lovie Smith was impressed with what he saw from the left-hander. On and off the field.

"I like what AJ Bush has been doing throughout," Smith said. "Seems like the last week or so, he's really kind of taken control a little bit."

What stands out with Bush?

"Leadership, starting off with that," Smith said. "He's got good size, can throw it, can run it. It's a little bit more than that at the quarterback position.

"A confident player as much as anything."

***

Like the head coach, new Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith isn't ready to name a starting quarterback.

"I'll wait," Smith said.

How did the players perform Saturday.

"Some good, some bad," Smith said. "It means we've still got more work to do. Saw some good things from some guys and saw some things we've got to get corrected that we can't have."

***

Week 2 of practice was better than the first week, Rod Smith said.

"I was proud of some of the throws," he said. "We've just got to eliminate some of the turnovers and the mistakes."

***

Rod Smith spent Saturday's practice calling plays from the coaches' box. That's where he will be during the season.

"It's always cool up there," Smith said. "It's always dry. I like it because you've got better vision from up there."

***

The starters on offense are taking shape, Rod Smith said. Somewhat.

"There are certain guys in my opinion that are establishing themselves a little bit more," he said. "We'll announce those as we go."

***

Injuries cut into defensive back Tony Adams' playing time his freshman year. He missed seven games as a rookie.

"He's healthy," Lovie Smith said. "You start off with that. You see he can return punts for us. Of course, he can play corner for us. I like his progress."

***

Receiver Mikey Dudek continues to shine. He looks more like his old self, a guy who had a 1,000-yard season as a freshman.

"I've been waiting a long time for someone and for us all to say that." Lovie Smith said. "That's how it's been. No issues, of course, injury-wise. It seems like it happened a long time ago. It's part of our memory as much as anything. I like what he's doing. As you can see, he can make some things happen as a punt returner."

***

Health-wise, Smith said, the team is "pretty good.

"We have a couple of injuries. We haven't had anything major. We need that. Our depth isn't what it eventually will be."

***

The Illini resume workouts Monday morning at the Campus Rec Fields. Unlike the first two weeks, the sessions are closed to the public.

"The early part of the week, we're pretty much still in training camp," Lovie Smith said. "The latter part of the week, we'll start getting a little more into game week, starting to prep a little bit for our first game."