URBANA — Milo Eifler jumped a route in the flat with notable quickness during one segment of 11-on-11 action during Friday’s Illinois football training camp practice at Campus Recreation Fields. All that was missing for the Illini linebacker was the interception, as he couldn’t quite haul in what turned out to be — because of his play — an errant pass.
“It was supposed to be the highlight of the day,” Eifler said with a smile. “Should have had it. There’s always tomorrow. It’s my goal tomorrow to get another interception. I got one last Saturday.”
Eifler was just one Illinois linebacker consistently making plays during Friday’s practice. Dele Harding was seemingly in on every tackle when he was on the field. Jake Hansen caused some havoc in the backfield.
“Had a good practice,” Eifler said about the linebacker group. “Had a mindset going in that we needed to set the tone. Once the linebackers set the tone, I feel like the rest of the defense kind of picks up. We got to fly around the ball and make some plays.”
This training camp has a different feel for Eifler for one clear reason. The former Washington linebacker sat out the 2018 season after transferring. He went through training camp — every practice — but there wasn’t an end goal in mind a year ago.
There is now. Eifler is getting anxious for the Aug. 31 opener against Akron because now he can play.
“It’s been a year and some change that I’ve finally been able to suit up and play some football,” the Berkeley, Calif., native said. “Come Aug. 31 versus Akron I’ll be ready to go. Every night after watching film and rolling out, stretching and doing my thing I talk to my parents. My parents are almost more excited than me sometimes.
“They’re texting me, ‘Are you ready to go? Are you doing this? Are you making sure you’re in the right spot?’ I just want to thank them for putting me in this position. I’m definitely excited for what’s to come.”
Illinois coach and defensive coordinator Lovie Smith is ready to get Eifler on the field in a game situation, too. The way Eifler has practiced during training camp has been with a purpose, and Smith has noticed.
“I think when you know that you’re not going to play for a year it’s a little bit different approach that you take,” Smith said. “I think that’s natural. Now, there’s no holding him back. Now it’s about him competing to win a starting spot.
“He knows that he’s going to be one of our guys this year, and he’s got to get his game ready. It’s been a while sinec he’s played in a college game, but, again, he hasn’t disappointed at all.”