The play can’t start for Illinois until Doug Kramer snaps the ball to the quarterback. The third-year starting center is called the best in the Big Ten by linemate Kendrick Green. The friendly Kramer isn’t about to take any credit. He considers line work a group effort. Beat writer Bob Asmussen sat down with the Hinsdale native earlier in the week to talk about going bowling, beating Wisconsin, Bill Belichick and more:
How much would you like to play Iowa again after last Saturday’s loss?
Obviously, any time you lose a game, you definitely want a do-over. But you’re not going to get it. That’s why you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity.
Do you feel for the seniors that didn’t get a win against the Hawkeyes?
Any time we go these four years without beating someone, I feel bad for these seniors. That’s why we’ve had kind of a resurgence this year. We really love these guys. We want to win for them.
Did the offensive line win that battle against Iowa?
It’s hard to say because we didn’t win the game. There were definitely some things we can build on. We did some really good things running the ball.
Do you want A.J. Epenesa to go to the NFL early?
I hope he has a ton of success. He’s a good guy. But when we’re competing against each other, it gets fiery. I’d love to play against him another year if he came back. I’d be happy to watch him in the NFL, too.
What has this season meant to you?
Everything. We’ve been grinding for these past three years. I came in with a lot of these seniors. I redshirted; they didn’t. Seeing them go, it’s tough. We wanted to make this a memorable one for them. And also for these fans, who have been sticking with us through the past years as I did when I was a kid. Watching some tough years. Overall, it’s been unbelievable.
How is the offensive line playing this season?
Each week, we’ve been improving. We’ve taken steps. I’d say overall around a B. Still a lot to work on, a lot to clean up. We’re going to have four guys coming back once again. We’ll miss Rich (Petitbon).
How about you personally?
In general, I definitely feel like I’ve taken some steps from last year. A lot to improve on. Certain things, like seeing the defense, that’s one thing I’ve tried to do a lot better this year. Last year, I kind of relied sometimes on Nick (Allegretti). I’d look over and be like, “What’s going on?” We kind of worked that out together. Whereas this year, we still have some of that back and forth, me and Rich, me and Kendrick Green because we’ve all played a lot of football. My grade is probably around a B.
When did you see this type of season coming?
We were saying that since the last snap last season. We all knew we were going to be better this year, and we worked like that this offseason. As a turning point from this season, I’d guess you’d say the second half of the Michigan game. We started getting things rolling against a really good defense. The following weeks, we strung together a few.
What has been the key to the turnaround?
We just never give up. We’ll never stop fighting no matter what the deficit is. Sometimes in the past, you might have seen a 21-point lead in the third quarter turn into 42. Just a completely different mindset. We made really good adjustments at half this entire season, and I think it shows.
Years from now, what will you tell your kids about this season when they ask?
I’ll probably show them something we get from the bowl. There are a ton of moments this season so far that have been unbelievable. Maybe show them James McCourt’s field goal (to beat Wisconsin).
Do you prefer snapping the ball to the quarterback when he’s in the shotgun or under center?
I prefer shotgun. It’s just kind of how our offense is. It’s just a comfort thing at this point. I’ve been doing that for three years.
Who is your favorite NFL center?
Jason Kelce of the Eagles. He’s the guy. Growing up, I was an Illinois/Bears guy, so I loved Olin Kreutz and Brian Urlacher. I wanted to be a linebacker when I was younger. Kreutz and Kelce are similar players. Not the biggest guys. But they work with what they’ve got and they use their leverage very well. Kelce runs really well. I try to watch him and pick up some things.
Do you ever get recognized while walking around campus?
No. Every once in a while, maybe. I definitely do not care. I don’t need the recognition. Give it to Reggie (Corbin).
If you could play any other sport at Illinois, what would it be?
That’s tough. My favorite sport growing up was baseball. I played catcher. No shot I could do it now.
How is school going for you?
I’m a finance major. It’s going well. We had Larry Gies come and talk to us. That was awesome. He talked a lot about leadership.
Who is one person, living or dead, you would most like to meet?
We’ll keep it in football: Bill Belichick. He’s a winner. And he’s found a recipe to win. His attention to detail is unbelievable. He’s a great leader.
Can you imagine offensive line coach Bob McClain playing football?
He’s definitely smart enough to play.
How about Rod Smith at quarterback?
He’s got the brains as well. I could see Rod slinging it.
Tell me something people don’t know about you.
Even though I’m a finance major and you’re looking into the future, I like studying history, like World War II. I love looking at stuff like that.
Tell me something people don’t know about one of your teammates.
Kendrick Green thinks he’s the best dancer on the team, but he might be the worst.
Is Northwestern Chicago’s Big Ten team?
No. Illinois is Illinois’ Big Ten team. Chicago is in Illinois.