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Thursday was move-in day for thousands of University of Illinois students, but the Illini football team continued to prepare for its season-opener against Southern Illinois. With only nine days until kickoff, Illinois has fully moved into game-week style practices, fine-tuning its game plan for the Salukis.
Illinois moved to the grass practice fields on the east side of Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, as temperatures rose to the mid-80s. The team continued to install and fine-tune the Southern Illinois game plan in a workout that lasted nearly two hours.
After eight days in Rantoul, the Illini returned to Champaign Tuesday for the remainder of training camp. They conducted a final set of special teams and position meetings at Camp Rantoul before busing back to campus and treating the day's practice as an 11 a.m. game.
Following Monday's double practice, which included a scrimmage, Illinois had a single afternoon session on Tuesday. The team once again worked on special teams for a good portion of the early segment of practice before splitting up into individual position drills. Then they came back together for the team period.
After moving to Camp Rantoul late Sunday, the Illini hit the practice fields off U.S. Route 45 at 9 a.m. Monday. Illinois worked extensively on special teams fundamentals for the first portion of practice, then moved into individual drills, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and team sections.
The Fighting Illini passed the halfway point of the four split practices on a warmer, humid Wednesday. After two days of wearing only helmets, the team strapped on shoulder pads for the first time on Wednesday. The Orange team had the quick turnaround after practicing on Tuesday evening, while Blue waited until Wednesday afternoon. Thursday will be the last day of the split practices and the team will go in full pads for the first time on Friday morning.
The unofficial end to summer, Big Ten Football Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon, began Wednesday at the Hilton Chicago. Over 500 media were credentialed for the two-day event, where the college football world gathered to get an early read on one of the nation's top conferences.
The Fighting Illini opened 2012 fall practice Tuesday under sweltering conditions but with many familiar faces. Illinois welcomes back 17 letter winners, including seven starters in the field and all three pitchers who formed the weekend rotation over the last half of the 2012 Big Ten season.
As the countdown to Saturday's season-opener against Western Michigan continues to dwindle, the Illini worked out on the Memorial Stadium turf once again on Wednesday. After practice wrapped up, workers completed the installation of the bowl banners on the barriers separating the stands from the field, including the Rose Bowl banner.
The Illini continued to prepare for the season-opener against Western Michigan on Tuesday, with another morning practice. Once the team finished working out on Zuppke Field at Memorial Stadium, work crews continued to install more signage recognizing Illinois' all-time bowl appearances and an Illinois. Our State. Our Team sign atop the student section in the north end zone seating area.
After a day off on Sunday to allow players to move into their campus housing, the Illini returned to action on the grass fields to the east of Memorial Stadium for a practice in shoulder pads and shorts. Illinois continued to install its schemes and began to prepare for its season-opening opponent, Western Michigan.
Practice 4: Thursday Morning
After three days of split practices as the Orange and Blue squads, the Illini returned to working as a single unit on Thursday. That gave the team a better opportunity to work on some special teams units as well as special teams fundamentals, such as how to shed blockers as a kickoff coverage player or what technique to use as a lineman on a field goal.
Practice 3A: Wednesday Morning
The team awoke Wednesday morning to news of a water main break that led to a boil order in the part of Rantoul around the former Chanute Air Force Base - the exact location where the Illini hold Camp Rantoul. But the team's support staff quickly mobilized, with director of football operations Tim Knox working with the athletic training staff to make sure practice could go on as normal. Assistant athletic trainer Chris Brown drove back to Champaign, filled up as many five-gallon coolers as the team would need for the morning practice and returned to Rantoul in time for the Blue team's session.
Practice 2A: Tuesday Morning
The same group the wrapped up day one of Camp Rantoul started day two, as the Orange team worked out Tuesday morning. They went through a similar routine as on Monday, with individual position drills, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work.
Practice 1A: Monday Morning
The Illini opened the 2012 version of Camp Rantoul Monday morning, with the first session of a split-squad practice on the grounds of the former Chanute Air Force Base. The morning session was for the "Blue" team, which consisted of first-stringers and fourth-stringers. The "Orange" squad will be the second- and third-string players and they will practice at 4:45 p.m. Monday.
After the Illini beat Northern Illinois 7-2 on Saturday, they returned to their hotel, showered and changed into their travel sweats and re-boarded the bus to head to Harrisburg to deliver the food and funds that were donated during Wednesday's fundraiser. Once the Peoria Charter bus turned into the Arrowhead Shopping Center and headed for the building that formerly housed the Mad Pricer grocery store, a group of people including Harrisburg mayor Eric Gregg, other community leaders and the Harrisburg High School baseball team came into view.
Piano Jam Session at St. Anthony's Dining Room
Kitchen Singing at St. Anthony's Dining Room
Interim HC Vic Koenning Pep Rally Interview
Day 4 Photo Gallery
In case we had missed the meaning of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl prior to today, the Fighting Illini players and staff were confronted with it head-on when they spent the morning serving the guests of St. Anthony's Dining Room. One in five San Franciscans experience hunger and as many as one in two are hungry in the Tenderloin, the area around St. Anthony's Foundation.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase Kickoff Luncheon Interview
Day 3 Photo Gallery
Fighting Illini Bowl Central
After we enjoyed a Wednesday that was somewhat light on official Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl activities, Thursday's schedule was full. The Illini went through their final practice at Laney College before heading to the Westin St. Francis hotel for the KFHB Kickoff Luncheon. We had a few free hours in the afternoon and in the evening, the team headed to Players Sports Grill and Arcade on Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf.
LB Trulon Henry Post-Practice Interview
RB Donovonn Young Post-Practice Interview
Day 2 Photo Gallery
Illinois' second day in San Francisco was less scripted than the first, fitting in with the laid-back local vibe. After a morning practice, the team and staff were able to enjoy a free afternoon and evening, seeing the sights or just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. But before we get to the rundown of day two, be sure to check out the great recap of the first night's trip to Alcatraz by our Illini Productions crew (Alcatraz trip | Player Reaction to Alcatraz).
Jerry Rice & Ronnie Lott Press Conference
Day 1 Photo Gallery
The Illini had a full schedule on their first day in San Francisco with a morning practice, a press conference at AT&T Park in the afternoon and a sightseeing trip to Alcatraz Island, home to the infamous former federal prison. It was a great way to kick off the team's stay in the City by the Bay leading up to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31.
The Fighting Illini opened fall practice on Sept. 5 and are approximately halfway through their fall season after Tuesday's practice. Illinois has begun the process of integrating 11 newcomers into the remainder of last season's team that won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships, and advanced to the title game of the NCAA Fullerton Regional.
Ryan Lankford highlighted the offensive performance with a diving catch at the goal line to finish the team portion but Terry Hawthorne jumped an out route in the two-minute drill for a pick-six.
Day one of the Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon started early - 5 a.m. to be exact. I made it to the Varsity Room parking lot a few minutes before 6:30 and just after I pulled the Google Maps directions (no GPS on my phone for me; I'm one of the last people I know who is holding out on the smartphone craze.) out of my laptop case, Tavon Wilson and A.J. Jenkins both walked up to the car.