CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The non-conference games will be a critical time for Illinois running back Josh Ferguson to prove he can shoulder the load and be the go-to guy for Tim Beckman's offense. Ferguson took hold of the No. 1 job early in the season last year, but this will be his first season opener as the top running back. He says he gained ten pounds in the offseason and is ready to show what he can do. "I'm definitely ready to go," he said. "I put in a lot of work this offseason in order to do so. I'm excited. It's been a long offseason, and we're just ready to play." Ferguson racked up more than 1,300 total yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
DANVILLE, Ill. - Danville will have a new look this season. The Vikings plan to start nine sophomores. Tavion Boyd will replace Trent Sherfield at quarterback, and junior running back Kaleb McLain will be the go-to guy offensively. Even though they're one of the youngest teams in the Big 12, Danville head coach B.J. Luke says youth isn't always a bad thing.
MAHOMET, Ill. - Around Mahomet they call it the "Kenney Connection." You've probably heard it over the loud speaker if you've been to a Bulldogs' game recently. "When he first announced he said, "Kenny to Kenny" and then he said, "The Kenny Connection" and from then on it just became a moniker," said head coach Keith Pogue.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - When Illinois takes the field Saturday against Youngstown State, it will be our first chance to see how much the defense has improved. "It still comes down to tackling," said head coach Tim Beckman. "It still comes down to rushing the passer, and catching the football on interceptions. But I think we've gotten better. We see that as a defense throughout this preseason."
MT. ZION, Ill. - Payton Grinestaff's first year at quarterback didn't start well. "I think he had like seven picks in the first four games," said Mt. Zion head coach Mike Popovich. But it finished great. "[He] didn't throw another one the last five games and got better every week," Popovich said. "You can't say that about a lot of kids, and he is definitely not satisfied."
MAHOMET, Ill. - Mahomet-Seymour hit the practice field at 6:00 a.m. Tuesday to beat the heat as they get ready for their season opener against Mt. Zion. Seventh-year head coach Keith Pogue left it up to the seniors to decide whether to practice before or after school. They said it was worth waking up early. "I'm actually a big morning guy," said senior Joe Kenney. "So I don't mind coming out here and getting down and doing some work. It does beat getting in the heat though."
CHARLESTON, Ill. - The battle continues in Charleston to see who will replace Jimmy Garoppolo as Eastern Illinois' starting quarterback. The Panthers play their season opener Thursday at Minnesota, and new head coach Kim Dameron - who has been a defensive coach his entire career - still has not announced a starter. It will either be fifth-year senior Andrew Manley or Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Zach Grant likes being the underdog. It's all he knows, so he embraces it. "I love it," he said. "It's just motivation to go out and do your best everyday and prove people wrong." Grant was an all-state receiver at Rochester High School, teaming up with Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt to help the Rockets win back-to-back state titles. He set an IHSA record for most receiving yards in a season his senior year. He's second in the record books in receptions. But at 6' 0'' tall and 190 pounds he didn't have any Division I scholarship offers out of high school.
WCIA 3 Sports brings you a preseason look at the Illinois football team and some of the top storylines we'll be watching this high school football season.
URBANA, Ill. - The Urbana Tigers are two seasons removed from the best year in program history. They won the Big 12 title and won a playoff game for the first time in school history. So last season's 2-7 finish isn't sitting well with them. "I think the issue last year in 2013 was we just didn't know how to handle success," said head coach Nathan Watson. "With that being said we were right there 14 points approximately from the playoffs and a lot of fourth quarter losses."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It is finally game week for the Illinois football team, and they have already spent some time game planning for the season opener Saturday against Youngstown State. There has been a lot of talk about optimism this offseason, and now it's time to show what they can do. Illinois will try to snap a four-game home losing streak when they take the field Saturday, and head coach Tim Beckman says he likes what he is seeing from his team and thinks they will be ready to go.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - As game week arrives, there is really only one starting job still up for grabs, and that is at right tackle where junior Pat Flavin and redshirt freshman Christian DiLauro are fighting for that spot. Head coach Tim Beckman said Monday Flavin holds a slim edge, but DiLauro has been charging hard. Beckman wants to let that battle play out this week before making a final decision on Thursday. "I would give the nod if we were playing tomorrow to Pat Flavin," Beckman said. "We've still got three more days to compete to be that starting right tackle."
WCIA 3's Bret Beherns has an inside look at a baseball team turning back the clock when they play.
Rochester head coach Derek Leonard has high praise for his former quarterback Wes Lunt. Lunt was named the Illini starting quarterback this week.
Central's Montrel Moore is healthy this season and looking to have a big year playing on both sides of the ball.