Illinois had its first day without practice during fall camp on Sunday, but they didn't have a complete day off. Coaches and players took part in media day activities and got to meet and mingle with Illini fans during the annual Fan Appreciation Day festivities.
Second-year head coach Tim Beckman started the day by holding his annual press conference in the Memorial Stadium squad room. Flanked by dozens of media, Beckman gave an update on his team's progress after the first week of fall practice, and looked ahead to Camp Rantoul and the 2013 season. While that was happening, athletic communications staff members were arranging the 105 players and dozens of coaches and support staff for the team photo in the west stands of Memorial Stadium. Beckman joined the group in the stands once his press conference ended, then a circuit of group photos began that lasted the better part of 90 minutes.
There were photos of seniors, freshmen, position groups and even recruiting areas. Of course, the biggest recruiting area group photo was the entire state of Illinois, which included nearly 50 players. From there, players started through three stations where they took individual posed photos and filled out a questionnaire for the News-Gazette.
That finished most players' requirements on the afternoon, but a select few had been requested for interviews in the football performance center beyond the north end zone. WCIA-3 TV also filmed some interviews for its season preview special in the players' lounge. Still, all the activity wrapped up promptly at 3:30, just as the schedule stated, which allowed the players a few minutes for a quick team meeting and to walk up to the Great West Hall for Fan Appreciation Day.
For the next hour, players signed posters and memorabilia, and talked and posed for photos with fans of all ages. Fans also were able to walk out onto the Zuppke Field turf and check out the Memorial Stadium video board and see the new ribbon boards along the facades of the east and west balconies in action.
After Fan Appreciation Day ended, the team ate dinner and bused to Camp Rantoul, where it will spend the next eight days. The first practice in Rantoul is Monday at 9 a.m., with an evening scrimmage at Camp Rantoul Monday at 5:30 p.m. All practices at Camp Rantoul are open to the public and free to attend.