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.
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."
Rochester head coach Derek Leonard has high praise for his former quarterback Wes Lunt. Lunt was named the Illini starting quarterback this week.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman put an end to the quarterback competition Wednesday when he announced sophomore Wes Lunt will be the starting quarterback when the Illini open the season August 30 against Youngstown State. Lunt had been the frontrunner for the starting job since the end of spring practice, and today Beckman made his decision.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Every year before Camp Rantoul ends, each senior stands in front of the team and gives a speech. It is often a time of reflection, reminiscing about how fast their time has flown by. It is also about the future - cherishing every moment they have left in their final season. Donovonn Young's speech was no different. "I put a lot of emphasis on the fact that I was going to miss these guys a lot," said the senior running back. "College football has done so much for me, really molded me into the man that I am today."
RANTOUL, Ill. - All signs indicate that Wes Lunt is in the driver's seat to be named the starting quarterback when Tim Beckman makes that announcement Wednesday. Lunt has consistently outperformed senior Reilly O'Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey so far in camp. The latest performance came in a scrimmage Saturday where Lunt completed more than 80 percent of his passes for nearly 250 yards. "I felt as an offense we did pretty well," said Lunt. "I thought we punched it in when we needed to. We had a couple three-and-outs. Need to cut down on penalties, but other than that I thought the offense played pretty well."
RANTOUL, Ill. - The Illinois quarterback competition is coming down the last couple days, as Tim Beckman says he will announce his starter on Wednesday. Sophomore Aaron Bailey may be running out of time to make an impression. That's because Bailey left Monday morning's practice with some stiffness in his shoulder and neck area. Beckman says it doesn't appear to be anything serious; he's just playing it safe.
After practice Monday, Tim Beckman and the Illinois football team accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and also issued a few challenges of their own.
WCIA 3's Bret Beherns chats with illiniboard.com's Robert Rosenthal about Camp Rantoul.
Earnest Thomas is changing positions on the Illinois defense and WCIA 3's Bret Beherns reports he hopes to give the team a boost.
University of Illinois junior Kentrell Brown is in charge of the on field music during Camp Rantoul.
The Illinois football team is working to continue to improve in the kicking game this season.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said he will name a starting quarterback no later than Wednesday. He added that Saturday night's scrimmage will go a long way in determining who wins that job. The team wrapped up it's week of practices at Camp Rantoul Friday night, and now they will scrimmage under the lights at Memorial Stadium. That scrimmage will be closed to the public and media. Beckman said he is looking forward to finding out how far his team has come so far this season.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Whitney Mercilus had one of the best seasons in Illinois football history just three years ago. He was named the top defensive end in the country after breaking Big Ten and school records for forced fumbles and sacks. Just two years later the entire Illinois defense struggled to match Mercilus' individual effort. The Illini only managed 15 sacks last season - one less than what Mercilus tallied by himself in 2011. "We obviously know that that has to be a part of our game that improves drastically this year and we're working hard on it," said defensive line coach Greg Colby. "In fact, we're comparing ourselves to who was number one last year in the Big Ten and those are the numbers that we're shooting for."
RANTOUL, Ill. - Tom Brattan never saw himself at Illinois. He was happy at Maryland, where he had been for the last 13 years. But when his contract wasn't renewed, he was in a jam. Luckily for Brattan, so was Tim Beckman. "It's just one of those things that worked out well," Brattan said. "I don't know how you say it, the stars were all aligned correctly."
RANTOUL, Ill. - The Illinois football team enjoyed a little change of pace after practice Tuesday night. Head coach Tim Beckman surprised the team by renting a dunk tank. Every senior picked one person to get wet. DeJazz Woods nominated Beckman. The third-year coach says team bonding is a big part of Camp Rantoul, and he couldn't think of a better way to do it.
RANTOUL, Ill. - Jihad Ward grew up in North Philadelphia. It's a rough part of town. No one knows it better than Philly-native Bill Cubit, who recruited him to Illinois. "Grandma and mom, when I walked out of the house, they said, 'Be careful coach,'" Cubit said. "I said, 'My car is parked right outside. I got a real good parking spot right in front of the house.' She goes, 'Be careful coach.' That kind of tells you a little bit."
Update: 10:04 pm RANTOUL, Ill. - It's only day one of Camp Rantoul, and some tempers were already flaring. There was an incident Monday night toward the end of a scrimmage. Some players got into a pushing and shoving match.
Illinois opens Camp Rantoul Monday. The defense hopes to continue to improve and the linebackers are hoping to lead the way.
Several Illini cornerbacks were forced to play as true freshmen. Now they have a year under their belts and feel more prepared for the season.
There's a new look to the Illini wide receivers this year, but as WCIA 3's Bret Beherns reports the coaches are already singing their praises.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team suffered it's first major injury of the preseason. Junior linebacker Mike Svetina will miss 8-10 weeks after he suffered a broken bone in his foot. Head coach Tim Beckman says Svetina had surgery Wednesday night to repair the injury. Svetina was a projected starter at linebacker. He was Illinois fifth-leading tackler last season with 57 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss and one forced fumble.
Aaron Bailey is preparing for the moment his number is called this season, and he is determined to do it as a quarterback. "I know I'm a quarterback, and that's what I'm staying with," Bailey said.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois wide receiver Geronimo Allison missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury, but head coach Tim Beckman isn't worried. He says the junior college transfer should be back at practice Thursday. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit says Allison has been one of the top receivers so far in camp. Meanwhile the Illini put on shoulder pads for the first time Wednesday. No hitting yet, but they are getting closer as they inch toward a return to Camp Rantoul next week.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For the first time Josh Ferguson is the go-to guy in the Illinois backfield heading into the season. It's a title and a responsibility the redshirt junior is still getting accustomed to. "It's a little more pressure," Ferguson said of being the featured back. "Being the understudy you can get away with little things but not so much as a leader. You have more pressure to do well and be perfect - but I like it."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - V'Angelo Bentley did something last year no other Illini player has ever done in a single season. He returned a kick off and a punt for a touchdown. And as WCIA 3's Matt Wettersten reports, this season one of the biggest Illini playmakers is looking for more.
COLUMBIA, Mo. - It's not exactly a feud between Illinois and Missouri, but Tim Beckman did imply that the Tigers may have gone too far - in his words "stealing" offensive line coach A.J. Ricker away from Illinois with less than a month to go before the start of fall camp. Ricker is starting to settle in now as the new offensive line coach at Missouri. He told reporters Tuesday that Beckman offered him a raise to try to keep him from leaving, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to return to his alma mater.
Illinois offensive coordinator joins WCIA 3 for a LIVE interview and defensive back V'Angelo Bentley stepping up as a defensive leader
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman isn't tipping his hand yet, but Wes Lunt appears to open camp as the favorite to land the starting job. The Oklahoma State transfer is coming off a solid spring and summer, and he couldn't wait to get on the field Monday knowing what's ahead. "It was fun," Lunt said. "We got to fly around. I was excited, and the offense played pretty well."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The biggest problem for the Illinois football team on day 1 of practice had nothing to do with the players; it was actually the grass. Because of the unseasonably cool temperatures - the coldest July on record in Champaign-Urbana - the Bermuda grass on the practice fields east of Memorial Stadium were not completely ready. The result was slippery grass head coach Tim Beckman described as "a swamp," and divots all over the field. Beckman ended practice a few minutes early because of the damaged field, and he says the team will practice inside Memorial Stadium on the turf the rest of the week to keep the players safe.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team held it's first practice of the fall on Monday. Quarterback Wes Lunt talks about his first day of camp, and head coach Tim Beckman joins WCIA 3 for a LIVE interview
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football team will begin fall camp Monday, August 4th for a week of practices in Champaign that are closed to the public. They'll move to Rantoul August 11th, where they'll practice for six days with all practices being free and open to the public. CAMP RANTOUL SCHEDULE Mon., Aug. 11: 9:00 am, 5:30 pm Tue., Aug. 12: 4:15 pm Wed., Aug. 13: 9:00 am, 4:15 pm Thu., Aug. 14: 4:15 pm Fri., Aug. 15: 9:00 am, 4:15 pm Mon., Aug. 18: 10:45 am, 5:00 pm
BRISTOL, Conn. - Tim Beckman got the ESPN royal treatment on Wednesday. They call it the "Car Wash." Beckman spent most of the day at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol for a series of interviews across all of ESPN's platforms. That included stops on SportsCenter, College Football Live and in-depth interviews with ESPN's writers. It was all part of a two-day event where all 14 Big Ten coaches visit Bristol for ESPN's own media days.
CHICAGO - If Tim Beckman is feeling any pressure heading into year three at Illinois, he isn't showing it. The Illini head coach answered questions from the media Monday with confidence and a calm demeanor even after two losing season with the Orange and Blue.
CHICAGO - Tim Beckman wasn't ready to name a starting quarterback as he took the podium at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago Monday, and according to the head coach, it could be as many as four more weeks before Illini fans find out who will start the season opener August 30 against Youngstown State. Beckman told reporters he anticipates picking a starting quarterback by the end of two-a-days.
CHICAGO - Illinois has won just six games in Tim Beckman's first two years in Champaign-Urbana, and the Illini haven't played in a bowl game since 2011 - and senior Simon Cvijanovic has had enough. The offensive lineman will be leaned on to anchor a veteran group up front, but also mentor the next group of Illini players who are just beginning to make names for themselves. And Cvijanovic says the losing has to stop.
The Illinois football team opens practice in just over a week. It's an exciting time for offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. WCIA 3's Bret Beherns has more on Cubit and one of his biggest hobbies away from the field.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tim Beckman had some strong words Wednesday when describing the process of hiring a new offensive line coach on short notice. His former offensive line coach A.J. Ricker left for Missouri earlier this month, less than four weeks before the start of fall camp. That forced Beckman to make a fast hire. He brought in Tom Brattan, who wasn't retained at Maryland after 13 years on the Terps' staff. Beckman says it was important to find a coach who was unemployed, rather than doing to another school what Missouri just did to him. SUCH SHORT NOTICE, AND SAID HE DIDN'T WANT TO DO TO ANOTHER SCHOOL WHAT MISSOURI JUST DID TO HIM.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois football program is mourning the loss of one of it's own. Former Illinois offensive lineman Shawn Afryl died suddenly Monday night after he collapsed during a workout, while getting ready for his senior season at Winona State University in Minnesota. Afryl was a member of the Illinois football team for three years, but he graduated early and planned to use the remainder of his eligibility at Winona State.
ROCKFORD, Ill. - Former Illinois kicker Derek Dimke is hoping the third time is a charm when it comes to landing on an NFL team. Dimke will camp with the New Orleans Saints next week after getting cut each of the last two years. After a standout career at Illinois, Dimke says he is a little more relaxed this time around. Last year he tried out with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Before that, the Detroit Lions - but he has yet to make the team. He says he will go in relaxed and confident with the Saints.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (UI Release) – University of Illinois head coach Tim Beckman announced the hiring of Tom Brattan as offensive line coach on Thursday. Brattan joins the Fighting Illini staff after spending the last 13 years as offensive line coach at Maryland, and he also spent time at Stanford and Northwestern.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois junior Josh Ferguson was named to the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award Thursday. The award is given each year to the nation's top college running back. Ferguson led the Illini ground attack last year with about 65 yards per game and 11 touchdowns. He also had nearly 45 yards a game receiving, which was second most of any running back in the nation. Ferguson is one of eight Big Ten backs and 53 players nationwide to make the watch list.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It didn't take long for Illinois to find its new offensive line coach. Exactly one week after AJ Ricker left for Missouri, a source close to the program confirmed to WCIA 3 that Tim Beckman has hired former Maryland offensive line coach Tom Brattan to replace him. Brattan spent 13 years coaching the offensive line at Maryland, but he wasn't retained after last season. In his time with the Terrapins, Brattan was responsible for recruiting the state of Illinois. The Delaware native has also spent some time as an assistant at Stanford and Northwestern. Brattan has 37 years of coaching experience in all. An official announcement is expected in the coming days.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Two Illini were named to national watch lists Monday. Junior Mason Monheim was named to the watch list for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation's best linebacker. The award is named after Illinois legend Dick Butkus. Monheim, who is a former freshman All-American was ninth in the Big Ten with 8.1 tackles per game, including 6.5 tackles for loss, last year. Meanwhile senior Matt LaCosse was named to the College Football Performance Awards tight end watch list. LaCosse caught 20 passes for 237 yards and 3 touchdowns last season.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - We are less than a month away from the start of fall camp, and Tim Beckman is now searching for a new offensive line coach. That's because A.J. Ricker is leaving the U of I to accept the same position at Missouri.
Illini sophomore offensive lineman and president of the Illinois chapter of Uplifting Athletes led the third annual Lift for Life fundraiser at Memorial Stadium Friday night. The Illini raised more than $7,500 for acoustic neuroma, supporting former Illinois football player Andrew Carter, who was diagnosed with the condition in 2011.
The Illinois football team worked out under the lights at Memorial Stadium Friday night to raise money for Acoustic Neuroma. The event was hosted by the Illini chapter of Uplifting Athletes, an organization that raises money and awareness for rare diseases.
Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman landed another in-state 2015 recruit Wednesday. Hales Franciscan senior-to-be Patrick Nelson verbally committed to play for the Illini via his twitter account. Nelson is a three-star safety.