Home > Illinois football > Spring practice #3 notes: Illini pad it up, Liuget fires ’em up

Spring practice #3 notes: Illini pad it up, Liuget fires ’em up

A familiar face led the Illini through stretches on Saturday. Taking a break from pre-draft workouts and meetings with NFL teams, former Illini defensive tackle COREY LIUGET gave his former teammates a spirited warmup for their first full-padded spring practice at Memorial Stadium.

“Corey would give an awful lot to be out there with us right now,” Illinois coach RON ZOOK said. “Hopefully things will work out for him and he’ll be fine. But it was fun to see the players reacting. It comes from the heart from Corey. He loves this place.”

Former Illini linebacker MARTEZ WILSON, expected to be drafted in the first three rounds of this month’s draft, also visited practice.

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ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Jon Gruden was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at yesterday’s Illinois Football Coaches’ Clinic in Champaign, but a severe storm in the southeast grounded his airplane multiple times.

Zook monitored Gruden’s flight via an online flight tracker. When he saw Gruden’s direct flight from Tampa to Chicago divert east, he called Gruden.

The former NFL coach, known for his intensity, told Zook his plane had been struck by lightning.

“Jon, I could tell he was kind of shook up,” Zook said. “He said there was fire that’s going around the plane and everything. He said, ‘Zooker, I think I’m done flying for the day.’ I said, ‘I understand and I’m sure the coaches understand,’ but he’s going to try to get back up here next year.”

Illinois offensive coordinator PAUL PETRINO filled in for Gruden on Friday.

“It went great,” Petrino said. “Just get up and talk football, that’s a good deal. That’s a good afternoon for me.”

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The coaches clinic also brought dozens of high school prospects to Champaign, many of whom took in Saturday’s sunny practice. Zook estimated that about 40 junior prospects attended practice.

“These guys are making decisions,” Zook said. “They need to make them on everybody and everything. It’s not just the coach or coaches, it’s everything. The more we can get them down here, get them around our guys, the better off we’re going to be.”

A few notables in attendance included Mt. Carmel defensive tackle VONTRELL WILLIAMS, Bolingbrook linebacker ANTONIO MORRISON and Sandburg offensive lineman DAN FREENEY.

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Wide receiver TIM RUSSELL starts the spring as the holder, a position vacated by graduated punter ANTHONY SANTELLA. Sophomore safety STEVE HULL, who practiced Saturday after sitting out earlier this week with an ankle injury, also will receive a look as DEREK DIMKE’s placesetter.

“Derek will have as much to say about it as I do,” Zook said. “It’s who he feels comfortable with. I think Derek’s got a chance to be as good a kicker as there is in the country. I want to make sure we do the right things to keep him where he is.”

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The first padded practice always brings some extra excitement. The Illini ran the most famous drill in football, the Oklahoma drill, during the first hour of practice. But players weren’t allowed to tackle each other to the ground during 11-on-11 team drills. 

“To come out and put the pads on, it shows who the men are,” wide receiver SPENCER HARRIS said. “It steps it up another level and makes it harder.”

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