As Camp Rantoul quickly approaches next Monday, Illinois fans continue to get more and more anxious.
There are many questions to be answered as a completely rejuvenated staff aims to turn around a program that has made a disgrace of itself over the past two seasons.
Coach Ron Zook is hoping that with the returning talent and new acquisitions, the Illini can turn their program around for good as he sits on the proverbial “hot seat.”
To start things off, let’s take a quick look at Illinois heading into Camp Rantoul:
On the offensive side, newly added offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is hoping to take advantage of a team with plenty of hidden talent.
But the main key in Petrino’s success this season will lay on redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase.
Scheelhaase, a 6-2, 190-pound dual-threat QB, took over the starting position with very impressive spring practice sessions. He has to quickly adapt to Petrino’s pro-style offense this season, which is not an easy task after practicing the spread offense during his first year.
Behind Scheelhaase will be 6-0, 230-pound sophomore RB Mikel LeShoure. LeShoure averaged 6.8 yards a carry last season, which led the NCAA. The change to a pro-style offense should help in Leshoure’s running game. If he can exploit the defense, it should help take pressure of Scheelhaase.
At the WR position, expect big things as the Illini will have Eddie McGee, Jarred Fayson, A.J. Jenkins, and Jack Ramsey, all who were highly praised recruits coming into college.
On the defensive side, another newly added coach, Vic Koenning, is looking to revamp a defense that struggled tremendously last season, giving up 30.2 points per game.
On the defensive line, the Illini return Clay Nurse and Corey Liuget. Both Nurse and Liuget have made it clear throughout the offseason that they want to become leaders on this team, with both actions and words.
At the linebacker position, they have two outstanding players in Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson.
Junior Ian Thomas was the leading tackler a season ago, averaging 7.9 per game. Last season was his first as a starter, as he started off with a bang compiling 13 tackles in the opener against Missouri. He is hoping he can again be a big factor in turning around the defense.
Wilson, who will also be a junior, missed every game besides Missouri last season with a herniated disk in his neck that required surgery last season. Wilson stands at 6′-4″, 250 pounds. He recorded a 4.4 forty-yard dash as a senior in high school. Koenning has mentioned that Wilson has made huge strides since he was hired back in December.
In the secondary, Illinois’ most two notable players will be Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne.
Wilson was third on the team last year in tackles with 74. The junior cornerback also recorded seven passes broken up and one interception. Ron Zook has come out and said during fall practices so far that Wilson has taken his skills to much higher level.
Hawthorne will be a sophomore next season and has already set high expectations. Last season he earned Freshman All-Big Ten honors from The Sporting News as he racked up 30 tackles and started in 5 games. He has also made Phil Steele’s preseason first team All-Big Ten and Athlon Sports preseason third team All-Big Ten for the upcoming season.
Look for both the offense and defense to improve in the upcoming season as the new coordinators bring hope and promise to a talented roster.
Things/People To Keep an Eye On during Camp Rantoul:
1) How the offense adapts to the change in coordinator and scheme.
2) How the defense adapts to the change in coordinator and scheme.
3) Nathan Scheelhaase: Look to see how he not only has responded to the change in offense, but how he handles being the starting QB.
4) Eddie McGee: Look to see how he is doing at the WR position as well as how he looks as QB.
5) Martez Wilson: Look to see how he has comeback from his injury.
6) The Secondary: This was a huge weakness for the Illinois defense last season, but with more experience they have the capability to turn it around.
7) Defensive Line: As mentioned earlier, Clay Nurse and Corey Liuget look to be leaders of the team with their actions and words, and all of that starts as soon as Camp Rantoul begins.
8) Attitude and dedication of the players: Last season, Illinois was ridiculed for the lack of effort and emotion they put into the game. If they can put more effort and emotion into practices, games, etc., that could be one of the main factors during the rebuilding process.
Here is the schedule for Camp Rantoul:
Thu. Aug. 5 Practice 1A 3-5:20 pm Memorial Stadium
Practice 1B 4:30-6:50 pm Memorial Stadium
Fri. Aug. 6 Practice 2B 3-5:20 pm Memorial Stadium
Practice 2A 4:30-6:50 pm Memorial Stadium
Sat. Aug. 7 Practice 3A 9:20-11:20am Memorial Stadium
Practice 3B 10am-12:20pm Memorial Stadium
Sun. Aug. 8 Media Day Noon-2 pm Memorial Stadium
Mon. Aug. 9 Practice 4 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Tue. Aug. 10 Practice 5 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Wed. Aug. 11 Practice 6 8:05 am Rantoul, Ill.
Practice 7 6:15 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Thu. Aug. 12 Practice 8 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Fri. Aug. 13 Practice 9 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Sat. Aug. 14 Practice 10 6:30 pm Rantoul High School
Mon. Aug. 16 Practice 11 8:05 am Rantoul, Ill.
Practice 12 6:15 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Tue. Aug. 17 Practice 13 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Wed. Aug. 18 Practice 14 8:05 am Rantoul, Ill.
Practice 15 6:15 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Thu. Aug. 19 Practice 16 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Fri. Aug. 20 Practice 17 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Sat. Aug. 21 Practice 18 3:30 pm Rantoul, Ill.
Sat. Aug. 28 Fan Appreciation Day, TBA Memorial Stadium
All fans are welcome to come!
Directions to Camp Rantoul:
From I-57: Take Rantoul exit (exit 250)…Head east off ramp until you come to Route 45 …Go south on Rt 45…Follow until you see the fields on your left hand side…Take a left onto Wheat Ave…Parking is available on your right hand side in the parking lot.
From Champaign: Take Rt 45/Cunningham North until you see the Rantoul welcome sign …Take a right onto Wheat Ave.