Four downs: Former Illini offensive lineman Jack Cornell

Four downs: Former Illini offensive lineman Jack Cornell

Illinois football beat writer Bob Asmussen chatted with former Illini offensive lineman Jack Cornell, who is now the head coach at his alma mater Quincy Notre Dame. The first year wasn't what Cornell wanted, with the team winning three games. But he has the Raiders on the right track and plans to match the success of his coach, Bill Connell:

1. What was it like to be a first-year head coach?

"It was a fun challenge that I've always wanted to have the opportunity to do. We only won three games, but really ultimately for us this year it was about building our culture and establishing that. I think we did a really good job with that. We didn't have a single kid quit from the time training camp started. Everybody got to play in the homecoming game, which is awesome. We had a lot of positives to build off of. It was tough losing a lot of games, but that's not going to be the deal going forward. We feel good about the direction we're headed.

2. Is there extra pressure because it's your alma mater?

"I'm always going to put more pressure on myself than anybody else can. This is home to me. I feel very comfortable here."

3. Think back to when you were a News-Gazette All-Stater at Notre Dame, did you ever imagine you would be the guy running the team at age 29?

"This is what I wanted to do. I didn't know when that would be. I wanted it to be sooner rather than later. Being the guy to replace the guy (Bill Connell) isn't always easy. That's someone I know really well. Coach Connell, I respect him a lot more than just a regular coaching relationship. He helps me out in a lot of ways. It's an advantage for me to have him around. He's the AD and dean of students.

4. I know you were busy during the season, but did you get to watch Illinois play and, if so, what did you think?

"I got to see them a little bit. I brought our team over for the Purdue game. The night before, we played Charleston and we stayed in Mattoon. We got to bring everybody to the stadium and walk around on the field. It was really cool for them and they had a lot of fun. It was the only game I watched (Illinois) from start to finish. There are a lot of positives to build on. Certainly, a young team. They seem to be fiery and competitive and that's good for the future. People want to win right now and that's what we all want. From my perspective, it seems like Illinois continues to do the right things. That gives me confidence and I think it should for a lot of other people, too.