CHAMPAIGN — The coach who helped turn Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy into NFL first-round draft picks returned to the Illinois campus this weekend.
Former Illinois head coach/defensive coordinator Lou Tepper attended Friday’s Illini Quarterback Club luncheon. He will be at Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, which kicks off at 11 a.m.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith first met Tepper early in his career. While on the staff at Arizona State in the late 1980s, Smith visited in Champaign with then-Illini defensive coordinator Tepper.
“I wanted to have a chance to talk to the best as much as anything,” Smith said. “I’ve followed his career throughout.”
Smith’s son Miles, now the Illinois linebacker coach, talked with Tepper earlier this week.
“Coach Miles has his book (‘Complete Linebacking’),” Smith said. “He’s touched so many generations of young coaches, older coaches. For him to be attached to our university is just saying an awful lot. We plan on showing up (Saturday) for you Coach, for sure.”
On Sunday, Tepper and his family will attend the Chicago Bears-New Orleans Saints game at Soldier Field. Tepper coached Bears star Khalil Mack at the University of Buffalo. Saints head coach Sean Payton and offensive line coach Dan Roushar were on Tepper’s staff at Illinois.
Tepper is retired and living in Greensboro, Ga., about halfway between his daughter, Stacy and son, Matt. Tepper and wife Karen have four grandchildren.
Tepper volunteers with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, working with two high schools.
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Illinois running backs coach Mike Bellamy, a former Illini receiver, talked to the Quarterback Club crowd of 155 at Champaign’s Holiday Inn on Friday.
Bellamy is back on the Illinois staff this year after working for Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit from 2013-15.
At the Dick Butkus statue ceremony last week, a booster asked Bellamy why he returned to C-U.
“It’s home,” Bellamy said. “That’s how I felt.”
Bellamy worked at Mississippi State and Toledo between Illinois stops.
“When I got that phone call (from Smith), it was real easy,” Bellamy said.Illini defensive tackle Tymir Oliver also spoke to the group. Earlier, Smith mentioned Oliver would be someone “if you have a daughter, I would like for her to marry a guy like Tymir.”
An audience member asked Oliver, “Would you really want Lovie Smith as a father-in-law?”
Oliver took a second, then said “Yes.”
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Wisconsin has always recruited players from Illinois. The Badgers found a gem in linebacker Jack Sanborn.
The former News-Gazette All-State selection from Lake Zurich leads the team in tackles. After six games, No. 57 has 33 stops.
“I like how I’m playing so far,” he said. “Really, my first year of starting experience. I can continue to get better at so many areas in the game.”
Now a sophomore, Sanborn played in 11 games his rookie season, making seven tackles. His best game came at home against Illinois, when he recorded four tackles and forced a fumble.
Wisconsin’s defense has been dominant the first half of the season, pitching four shutouts. Despite significant graduation losses, Sanborn was confident in the defense going into the year.
“We just believed in what we did in the offseason,” Sanborn said. “The coaches have put together great game plans and we’ve just trusted each other.”
Sanborn and the Badgers saw it come together in the opener at South Florida, a 49-0 Wisconsin romp.
“I don’t think you really know until you get out there and go against another team,” Sanborn said. “That game against South Florida, it showed everyone what we’re capable of. From then on, we’ve just been building on top of that. After every game, we know there are areas we can clean up and get better. It’s all about improving.”
Wisconsin finished the 2018 season with a disappointing 8-5 record. It served as motivation.
“We wanted to learn from it,” Sanborn said.
Sanborn is a big fan of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
“He’s very important,” Sanborn said. “Just the knowledge he has toward the game of football and the knowledge he gives to us.”
Bad news for future opponents: The Badgers are looking for more shutouts.
“We want to be a dominant defense and there’s nothing more dominant than not allowing the other team to score,” Sanborn said.Sanborn is one of seven Illinois natives on the Wisconsin roster. He is excited to play in Champaign.
“It’s big,” he said. “I’m going to go into it like any other game, but I’ve got a few friends that go to Illinois.”
Illinois recruited Sanborn as a high school senior, but didn’t offer him a scholarship.
“We consider all good players from Illinois,” Smith said. “Some early stages, you kind of see where they’re going a little bit. We were never seriously involved with him to that extent. He’s a good football player in a good program.”
Sanborn has followed Smith’s coaching career.
“I watched Lovie growing up, coaching the Chicago Bears,” Sanborn said. “He’s a coach I have a lot of respect for.”
Sanborn is happy he chose Wisconsin.
“I just felt in my gut that this was the best fit for me,” Sanborn said. “Not only as a player, but as a student, as a person. I felt like this was home.”
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The Badgers had a short workout at home Friday before departing on a Delta charter for C-U. The travel party arrived late in the afternoon, then went to team headquarters at Champaign’s Holiday Inn.
The players had a short meeting after their arrival, then ate dinner at the hotel. No cell phones are allowed during the meal so the players can spend quality time together.
Following dinner, the players were allowed to visit with their families and watch football or movies in their rooms.