MAHOMET -- Friday Football Fever is back. WCIA-3 crews will be making stops at 18 games Friday night.
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.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The game time is now set for the Braggin' Rights game against Missouri. The U of I announced Friday that the game will tip off at 1:00 pm CT on December 20th and will be televised on ESPN 2. Meanwhile the Big Ten schedule was released Thursday night, and the big thing that stands out immediately is that Illinois opens up with four of their first five games on the road - including back-to-back games at Michigan at Ohio State. It's a tough way to start, but it makes finishing strong all the more important.
GIBSON CITY, Ill. - The high school football regular season begins one week from tonight, and if GCMS wants to get back to the playoffs again this year, youth will be the name of the game. GCMS is working hard in camp to replace 17 seniors. They have only five seniors this year, but those leaders are helping the younger players come along.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - SHG won the state title last season - the fourth in program history - and this year the Cyclones are once again primed for another deep playoff run. They return quarterback Gabe Green, a Southern Miss. commit - and Minnesota commit Quinn Oseland is back to protect him. Star receiver Malik Turner is gone - he's now a freshman at Illinois - but head coach Ken Leonard says they should have plenty of talent to fill his shoes.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (UI Release) - Illinois struck first, but No. 16 Notre Dame netted the final three goals to spoil the season and home opener at the Illinois Soccer Stadium. Freshman Abby Elinsky scored the first goal of the year in the 23rd minute, but the Fighting Irish scored twice in the final six minutes in the first half and added another in the second stanza. "I'm really proud of the way we battled today," head coach Janet Rayfield said. "The things that we gave up, especially ones that affected the scoreboard, were things that we had control over, things that we can make better in a pretty short amount of time. I told this team I'm optimistic based on what I saw today. This team is going to get better.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Big Ten schedules for both the men's and women's basketball seasons were released Thursday.
TUSCOLA, Ill. - The new Central Illinois Conference look a lot like the old Okaw Valley - with a twist. Eight of last year's Okaw Valley teams decided to move in a different direction, so they formed the Central Illinois Conference - or CIC. St. Teresa and Tuscola headline the league alongside Shelbyville, Sullivan Okaw Valley, Clinton, Warrensburg-Latham, Meridian and Central A&M. Tuscola head coach Rick Reinhart says it will be a competitive conference from top to bottom. "We look forward to the challenge," he said. "We think that we're on the right track but the thing is everybody in the state thinks that right now, so somebody's right and somebody's wrong."
FISHER, Ill. - The Fisher Bunnies took a big step forward last year, winning six games after just two wins the previous season. They have a veteran group of running backs returning, but they do have big shoes to fill on the line - especially with the departure of standout Josh Wallick. The Bunnies are energized for another run, especially with an upgrade to the stadium and a new fitness facility as well.
URBANA, Ill. - Former Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson held his 13th annual Illini Rebounders golf outing Wednesday afternoon at Stone Creek in Urbana. All the proceeds benefit the Illinois basketball program.
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."
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Illinois recruiting target Jimmy Whitt verbally committed to Arkansas at a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Hickman High School. White is a four-star combo guard, who is ranked among the Top 60 players nationally. He took an unofficial visit to Illinois last month and had scheduled an official visit to Illinois this fall, but Whitt decided to end his recruitment. He told reporters the decision ultimately came down to Arkansas and Missouri, his hometown team.
Champaign Centennial graduate Michael Finke, now a freshman on the Illinois basketball team, accepted Aaron Bennett's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - and issued a few more challenges to his Illini teammates.
ST. JOSEPH, Ill. - St. Joseph-Ogden lost 17 seniors from last year's state runner-up squad, and head coach Dick Duval hopes the underclassmen learned valuable lessons as they prepare for this season - their first in the new Okaw Valley. "A lot of these guys got to play in a big game last year," Duval said. "Hopefully that will help them this year when we get into those big games. There's going to be quite a few of them in the regular season this year with this conference."
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.
The St. Thomas More football team only has six seniors, but they have a lot of younger players with speed ready to step up.
The Unity football team is trying to make the playoffs for a 21st straight season. The Rockets are looking to build depth for the fall.
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.
Maroa-Forsyth's Jack Hockaday, an Iowa football recruit is ready to lead the Trojans this season.
The Bismarck-Henning football team has been almost unstoppable during the regular season, but haven't had that kind of success in the playoffs. They're hoping to change that 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.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Okaw Valley Conference will have a brand new look this year with the addition of St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More and Rantoul. The Spartans and Sabers come over together from the Sangamon Valley Conference, where they were two of the league's premier teams. Now the challenge gets ramped up a little more.
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."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois' newest assistant golf coach Zach Barlow is already on campus and getting down to work. Barlow was hired this week to replace Justin Fetcho, who is now the head coach at Southern Illinois. "[My] playing days are over," Barlow said. "It's time to focus on a national championship here, and bring in one of those. We've got some Big Tens. We got a runner up, but we need that big one."
PAXTON, Ill. - PBL is looking to get back on track this fall. The Panthers won their first four games last year, just one win away from qualifying for the playoffs, but they went on to lose their final five games of the season. That bitter end to 2013 is motivating this year's 15 seniors to make PBL's first playoff appearance since 2006.
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."
Here's a video to get you hyped for the new season!
URBANA, Ill. - The Illinois volleyball team is getting some national respect as they start their season. The Orange and Blue are ranked No. 11 in the country by the national coaches. Head coach Kevin Hambly's message this fall is consistency. They struggled with that a year ago going just 18-15, and Hambly says they have to be better this season.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Jimmy Fitzgerald's future is set. The Centennial senior is headed to Illinois to play football next year. But before he goes, the three-star quarterback has some unfinished business with the Chargers - a winning season and a trip to the playoffs are his only focus for now. "Having six wins in the last two seasons is fuel to the fire," Fitzgerald said. "It just makes me want to work that much harder to get to the playoffs."
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois football team got some bad news on the recruiting trail Wednesday as Sacred Heart-Griffin offensive tackle Quinn Oseland announced he has verbally committed to Minnesota, choosing the Gophers over more than a dozen high-major offers including Illinois.