Everyone’s camping this week. Not real campfire and s’mores camping, no, but pre-season sports camp. Our kids at soccer, the high schoolers in various sports, on up to to the college kids. As coaches with the younger set, pre-season camp is our means to get in more practice, conditioning, and training without throwing the parents into open revolt. If you said, “OK, we’re practicing four times this week and each session is extra long,” it’s taken a bit differently than the pre-season camp concept.
Across the state in Rantoul, the Fighting Illini football team have been camping at the one-time Air Force Base, doing two-a-days, knocking off the rust, and forming the depth chart. Camp Rantoul has a long tradition for the team, going back several coaches, which typically ushers in the Beemsville football season. Since we don’t really follow the NFL that closely, Illinois football is our pigskin outlet. A questionable outlet, some might say… As my uncle observed this past weekend, “it’s not easy being an Illini fan.”
We’re optimistic this year, though. We see an above .500 season, a bowl, and gradual progress. The reasoning is pretty simple: start with this schedule. It’s a lot more manageable than recent years. Toss-up games are at home. No multiple game road-trips. Avoiding some of the better teams from the Big 10 East. Also, this is the first season in (too) many where the team has both the offensive and defensive coordinators returning. Bill Cubit on offense was a must-retain, and Tim Banks on the D gets the chance to show what he can do with a little more experience and his guys. So the players don’t have to learn new systems for the first time in years, and you would think that little bit of consistency would pay off.
Our final positive vibe comes from the players. You have some key newcomers: Wes Lunt at QB, receivers Geronimo Allison, Mikey Dudek, and Malik Turner. Juco defenders like Jihad Ward and Carroll Philips. The offensive line returns four very experienced guys and should be solid. Nearly all the secondary is back (which we hope means they’ve all improved). And the running backs should be a team strength. Josh Ferguson is as shifty and fast as anyone in the conference. In the Bill Cubit offense, he should pile up some yards and TDs. Donovann Young has power and seems rejuvenated by the off-season. Waiting in the wings we have Devin Church, whose had positive camp reviews.
Now you can’t learn a whole lot from Camp Rantoul. This time of year, nearly every college football team has that positivity about them. You can read about camp, though, thanks to veteran Illini blogger Robert, whose A Lion Eye blog now resides at the Illiniboard. Our local media also does a fine job with their coverage, but nobody else covers the football team with as much enthusiasm and analytic insight as Robert.