Coach Zook
Zook Briefs Reporters Before Season Finale
Coach Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini wrap up the 2009 season with a home game Saturday against Fresno State.

Coach Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini wrap up the 2009 season with a home game Saturday against Fresno State.

Dec. 1, 2009

Opening Statement:
"This last game to me is about our seniors. It's about these guys playing their last game for the University of Illinois, playing their last game for the Illini, playing their last game in Memorial Stadium. Obviously they've done an awful lot of good things and an awful lot of bad things. I think one thing this class has done is show us where we can be and where we need to get back to. I think when they came here it wasn't necessarily the popular thing to do, so I have a special place in my heart for that. As I told our football team after the game on Saturday, they basically recruited everybody in this room. We owe it to them to do everything in our power as a football team and as a coaching staff to do everything we can do to win this game. Obviously it's going to be a heck of a football game. Fresno State is a good football team, a very well coached football team. I know Pat Hill pretty well. He's a tough guy. Their players are tough guys. They have one of the top rushing programs in the country. Their tailback is leading the nation in rushing. Their quarterback is kind of an unsung hero, an unbelievable player. I think the way he manages the game and handles the game is exceptional. The receiving core is big, strong, fast and physical and they do a great job. Special teams, the only reason that their kickoff returner is not leading the nation this year is because no one will kick to him. The previous two years he led the nation in kicking. Their field goal kicker is 14 out of 14. They're a very well-coached football team. Basically they're all from the California area, I think they have two guys from Arizona and a guy from Vegas. That's the thing - they're all from that part of the country. They're going to come here and it's going to be a battle. Our guys understand that and we have to be ready to play."

On who the kicker will be:
"I think Derek (Dimke) deserves a chance to continue to kick. Like I've said all along, we have two good kickers. They both can kick and we're very fortunate in that. I think a lot of times you'll see kickers go through a slump. It's like a batter. They'll both be fine. Derek deserves the opportunity to continue to be the kicker. The one thing you worry about is his kickoffs because he had been doing such a great job with the kickoffs. That's the concern that I have, particularly going against this guy."

On Derek Dimke:
"I know he can handle it. It's different when you're focusing on one thing and now you're focusing on kicking field goals and kicking off. He can do it. I'm not trying to say he can't do it, it's just a concern of mine. We have to continue to have the same kind of kickoffs that we've had."

On what Juice Williams has done for the program:
"He came here when maybe it wasn't the normal thing to do. I was telling Justin Green yesterday, because Justin played quite a bit last week, I was saying, 'Justin, you're acting like you couldn't hardly breath.' He said that it's difficult when you're playing a lot of football. How do you think Juice felt four years ago when he was the starting quarterback? I remember walking to the training table and I was physically worried about the guy. What he's done, has he been great? No, not all the time. But I'll tell you something. He's a winner. He's a competitor, and he'll be successful in whatever he does. There's no doubt in my mind."

On Juice Williams going pro:
"I think Juice would like to continue to try to play if he can. Hopefully he'll get that opportunity. I don't think he's thinking about that right now. It's funny, wherever we went, Puerto Rico, and I've been in Mexico and a lot of places, and everybody knows who Juice is. He did a lot for not only the University of Illinois but for the University of Illinois football program."

On it being harder to say goodbye to Juice than the other guys:
"No, I get close to all the guys. We hadn't maybe done some of the things that I wish we would have for (Juice). They all have had to go through some tough times, but he's kind of the guy that when it's been good it's been good, and when it's been bad it's been bad."

On Juice setting the Illinois yards record:
"There are six people in the history of the Big Ten conference that have gotten over 10,000 yards. He's the first one from University of Illinois. I'm not comparing him with all the great players that have played here. I'm just saying I think he's a guy that people will remember."

On Fresno State Coach Pat Hill:
"I've known a lot of people that have coached with him when he was in the NFL. In fact, I think he coached with Coach (Kirk) Ferentz as well. If you look at the coaching turnover he's had, every year he gets a new coordinator and he just keeps winning and doing things. I can remember when they first started the motto, maybe back in the 90s, 'Anyplace, anywhere, anytime.' That was kind of what he made famous. They didn't care where they went. They would go to big schools, little schools. They didn't care. Those guys kind of bought into that and that's kind of how they are. People say that it's going to be cold and don't know what the weather is going to be like. Those guys don't care about the cold weather. Trust me, they're going to come in here ready to play."

On Fresno State's defense:
"Defensively, they'll just try and maul you. They're an over and under team, a lot of cover. Not a big blitz team, they're just going to play hard and chase the football and they're going to try to create turnovers. They're not going to give up many big plays. They're going to keep the ball in front of them and try to knock you out, That's how they play. They're a tough, physical group of guys, We're sitting in there talking about who you would compare them to in teams that we've played, and we didn't play Wisconsin this year, but a team like Wisconsin. They're going to come in there and they're going to ram the ball down your throat. A team like Iowa last year, they're physical and tough. Their running back didn't play in the last game, he had a concussion, but they had the open day last week. There's a reason why he leads the nation. It was last year or the year before when they took Southern California right to the wire. They'll come in and they'll be ready to go."

On everybody being healthy:
"Yes except for Donsay [Hardeman]. I really was proud of them at last night's practice. We went out there and had a good practice, of course, that hasn't been an issue. Donsay probably will be the only one not to play. Everybody else is fine. A.J. [Jenkins] should be ready to go. I would venture to guess that AJ will be ready to go. Everybody else should be ready to go."

On Jason Ford getting banged up:
"Jason got banged up but it was a bruise. Every day it's gotten better. He had a pad on and he was complaining about the pad being big last night. I said it's better to have a big pad on today and a smaller pad on Saturday. Mikel's [LeShoure] ankle, he was fine. Other than that we were pretty fortunate coming out of it."

On what he tells the seniors that will never play football again:
"You kind of tell them that all the time. You have to tell them that every day. You're not guaranteed tomorrow. You're not guaranteed another play. You play every play like it's going to be your last play. I think last night in the meeting it maybe hit some of them because I repeated that. Why do you think you talk about playing every play like it's your last play? Because eventually it's going to be, and as I said, for some of these guys this is it. You will never play football again. Everybody thinks they may have a chance and maybe they will, maybe they won't. The only thing they're guaranteed is one more game. I think when it begins to hit home, I know I looked at Duvee [Chris Duvalt] and I could see kind of a blank stare in his face. When you've been doing something for as many years as they've been doing it and all of a sudden it's coming to an end. Doug Pilcher and those guys may all have opportunities to go on. Eric Block, those guys have played a lot of football and been through an awful lot of things, good and bad,"

On elaborating on what Juice Williams had to endure:
"I think everybody knows the good times he's had and the bad times. To me, the thing you'll remember is he handled the bad times. He never shied away. He took every interview. He took it like a man."

On not having to motivate the players as much because of senior day:
"That hasn't been our issue, getting them up. They'll go out there and they'll play as hard as they can. Obviously it's important that these guys send these seniors out the right way. I think they're excited about playing another good football team. There's no question that Fresno is an awfully good football team in all three phases and could just as easily be the number five team in the nation with Cincinnati."

On the reasons behind the struggles this season:
"It depends on who you ask. I think there are a lot of reasons. Obviously we haven't done the things that we feel like we needed to do. The ball has bounced the wrong way at times, and we've had injuries at times. Players haven't played as well, coaches haven't coached as well. I think there are a lot of things that go into it every time you have a season that doesn't reach expectations."

On Jon Asamoah:
"Jon is a guy that's a senior, playing his fourth year. He's been a three-year starter. He will graduate in December. You draw up a football player and he's exactly what you draw up. He's intelligent. He does well in school. He's articulate and very unselfish. He's an awfully good football player and once again, a guy who may have the opportunity to go on and play at the next level. He's a team guy. He's a guy who came to the University of Illinois because this is where he wanted to be. It gave him an opportunity to be close to home and it gave his family an opportunity to see him play."

On Terry Hawthorne's growth as a freshman:
"Terry's a guy that came in here as a wide receiver and had broken his hand in the state championship game as a senior. It didn't heal properly so they pinned it in the early part of the summer, so he wasn't really able to catch the ball and so forth until the last scrimmage of summer ball. We felt like the best chance to get him on the field was as a defensive back, and of course he wanted to play and didn't care. We all know he has a lot of talent. He's really bought into it. He's a gym rat. He studies. He likes to play the game. He's just gotten better and better every game."

On Arrelious Benn being a good match up for Fresno State's shorter defensive backs:
"I don't get into the match-up things a lot like they do in the NFL. I know that those guys are very well coached and they play extremely hard. I think Rejus is a good receiver and I think he can play against the big ones as well as the small ones. I don't get into what the match up is going to be."

On a favorite Juice Williams moment:
"I'd have to spend a little time thinking about that. There are a lot of them though, good and bad."