Cornerback Nate Hobbs, offensive lineman Alex Palczewski and running back Reggie Corbin will represent Illinois football on Thursday and Friday at Big Ten media days in Chicago. Before they left, beat writer BOB ASMUSSEN caught up with all three Illini representatives:
You gained 78 yards as a sophomore and 1,085 as a junior. How did that happen?
I think it was a combination of everything,. Being able to have an amazing system like that was very successful and fit me. Me and Coach Rod Smith, our relationship. I’ve grown a lot as a player. I’m a lot faster, a lot bigger. And my offensive line. Those five guys were healthy the entire season, played every single game and then that chemistry with them gradually got better over the season. Having five guys that trust me. The receivers and tight ends blocking outside has been the best I’ve seen from any team. You have clips of guys running 80 yards down the field, cutting cornerbacks off just so I can score. It was a whole team effort. It makes it easy when you have a group of guys like that who are giving max effort around you.
What’s it mean to be mentioned among the great running backs at Illinois?
It’s kind of breathtaking. But there’s a responsibility that comes with that and I understand that. Like Coach (Mike) Bellamy said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” It’s not what you have to do, it’s what you get to do. It’s a blessing and an honor at the same time. Even when it comes to workouts, I know they’re going to be on me the hardest. I’ve just got to keep grinding and put my head down and try to be an example, the same way those guys were.
How does rugby help you in football?
Angles. Knowing how to run in the open field. In rugby, if you don’t make every single time you break away count that’s a turnover and you may lose the game. And being tough. Once you get subbed out in rugby, there’s no coming back in.
Away from football, what have you been doing this summer?
I’ve been coaching a flag footbal league. Me, Justice Williams and Dele Harding are the coaches. It’s in Tuscola. We’re still undefeated. It’s really fun. I got a chance to give back and put smiles on kids’ faces.
Why did you come to Illinois?
Really, I was committed to Western Kentucky. The coach (Jeff Brohm) up and left. That’s when Illinois started pursuing me. Everything was up in the air. That was the only Power Five school recruiting me. I was like, “Big Ten, that’s a great opportunity.” I was just thinking about my future. It was an easy decision.
What’s it mean to have Lovie Smith as your defensive coordinator?
I know he has a lot of wisdom about defense. He’s a defensive coach. He knows what position to put us in to make the best plays. He knows everything about the scheme.
How are you different because of last year’s suspension?
It changed me for the better definitely. It made me realize to be on my stuff. I can’t afford to be wasting time not playing, not getting my film out there, not helping my team. My team needs me. It’s a bigger picture,
What’s your favorite part about growing up in Louisville?
It really wasn’t the place, it was the people. It might not be the biggest city, the most known city, but the people there are prideful. They’re going to tell you they’re from Louisville. People are like “Are you from Kentucky?” and I’ll be like, “No, I’m from Louisville.” It’s specific.
What’s the one Chicago spot you want to show your teammates this week?
There’s a few places I really love. The top of the John Hancock Center, they have a little restaurant up there. The entire Millennium Park, all around there. Navy Pier I absolutely love. Shedd Aquarium. I love all those places.
Who is the next Nick Allegretti in terms of leadership?
There’s no next Nick Allegretti. He’s only one person. Nick was older than everyone else. Now, me, Doug Kramer, Kendrick Green, Vederian Lowe, we’re all the same age. And Richie Petitbon is a grad transfer. We all know what it takes. We have a big group of leaders. And we get to help spread it out to the entire team and bring everyone else with us.
What’s the worst your name has ever been butchered?
Most of the time people just go “P...” “P....” “P....” “Alex.” They don’t even try most of the time.
What would it mean to play in a bowl this season?
It would mean everything. Going to a bowl confirms all this work we’ve been doing, all this sweating and lifting that we’ve been doing, we’re doing something right. There’s a reason why we’re here. All the dudes that were freshmen who played in my class, we’re all older. We’ve played a while and it’s our time to dominate the Big Ten.