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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Illinois' quarterback Matt Robinson (12) hands off to Illinois' running back Dre Brown (25) during UI football practice at Campus Rec Fields in Urbana on Thursday, August 8, 2019.

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URBANA — The sight of Dre Brown streaking down the sideline became a relatively common one during the first full week of Illinois football training camp. The redshirt senior running back is just picking up where he left off in 2018.

While he didn’t start last season healthy, he eventually got there. It was essentially the first time in his entire Illinois career he reached that level, and he made good on it. Brown finished the 2018 season third on the team in all-purpose yards as a backup running back and kick return leader.

Count offensive coordinator Rod Smith as not surprised by how Brown has performed so far in camp this month at the Campus Recreation Fields.

“He may have had the best camp of all the backs last year during this time,” Smith said. “Then he had turf toe right during game week for Kent State. He was able to stay healthy throughout the rest of the season. Then he was healthy all spring, I think, for the first time in his career. That’s good. When he’s healthy, he’s a player.

“Dre Brown is a tremendous football player. He runs big plays, big runs day after day. Every day he’s had that. I’m excited about that whole room — it’s a good group — but really excited about Dre.”

Staying healthy is Brown’s top priority. His Illinois career, marked by so many missed games, makes that inevitable. Two full seasons stolen by ACL tears. A third marred by lingering knee issues. Health matters.

“Obviously, I’m aware,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s nice, but getting injured and tearing your ACL before you know you can’t take anything for granted. It also teaches that if it happens then, hey, that’s life. I just try to come out here and go hard.

“I’ve felt like I’ve prepared myself. I’ve built my body up. I did injury prevention in the offseason. I trust in that. I just try to prepare and take care of my body the best I can. I leave the rest in God’s hands.”

Extra treatment after practice is basically a given at this point for Brown. And that’s just the start of the effort he puts into his body before the next day’s work on the field. One of his favorite treatments is putting his legs up against the wall to let them drain out. He’s also been getting tips on his feet from teammate Reggie Corbin, who was worked with a foot doctor himself.

“He’s actually been teaching me some things about how important the feet are,” Brown said. “Every night we just sit in the hotel room and talk and take care of our bodies. As the older guys, we kind of have to do that to get ready for the next practice. When we were young, we’d just go to sleep and pop up the next day.”

In the grand scheme of things, Brown is still young. He just turned 22 last month, and even a handful of his teammates — Corbin included — are older, although Brown was the first to enroll in January 2015.

That didn’t stop the “old man” jokes from pouring in when Brown shared the results of the FaceApp aging process on Twitter. That he got married last summer probably didn’t help stem the tide.

“It kind of took a turn,” Brown said with a small smile. “You know those memes. I thought it was there and would be gone. People call me the ‘old man’ now, which is fine. I’m the longest tenured Illini. I’ve been here longer than anybody on the whole team. I think it’s funny.”

Old man of the team or not, Brown is trying to build off his most successful season with another. He would be eligible to receive a sixth year of eligibility via a medical hardship waiver. But married to Lindsay with soon to be two degrees — he’s currently in grad school in the Gies College of Business Management — Brown talks about the upcoming 2019 season with some measure of finality.

“Obviously, you want to go out with a bang — building off that success,” Brown said about following up his 2018 season. “It was nice to get that first touchdown, that long run (against Minnesota), and then have another touchdown at Nebraska. Now I finally feel going into the games that I’m established, I’m comfortable and I just can go out there and play the game I love.

“I’ve been really just enjoying it. This is like my last camp being a senior. I’m just trying to enjoy it. It’s really exciting, though, just the way our team looks — offense, defense, special teams. We’re just a lot different than in years’ past.”

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).