Illini Ready for Spring Practice March 5

Tim Beckman kicks off his third spring as Illini head coach.
Tim Beckman kicks off his third spring as Illini head coach.

March 4, 2014

2014 Illinois Spring Football Roster | Spring Notes | Beckman Press Conference | Cubit Interview | Banks Interview

Illinois football coach Tim Beckman and the Fighting Illini begin spring practices on Wednesday, March 5, marking the first of 15 spring workouts for the Fighting Illini. Spring practices culminate in the annual Orange and Blue Spring Game April 12 at 2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. Admission and parking for the Spring Game are free. Parking will be available in the lots surrounding Memorial Stadium and the State Farm Center.

In addition to the Spring Game, three practices will be open to the public: March 14, April 4 and April 10. The remaining practices are closed to the public. All practices in Champaign will be held at either the East Practice Fields, inside Memorial Stadium or in the Iwrin Indoor Practice Facility depending on the weather. The March 14 practice will be at Chicago's Gately Stadium (810 E. 103rd Street), while April 4 practice will be at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield (1601 W. Washington, Street).

 Practice #1 Wednesday, March 5, 7 a.m.
 Practice #2 Friday, March 7, 8 a.m.
 Practice #3 Saturday, March 8, Noon
 Practice #4 Monday, March 10, 7 a.m.
 Practice #5 Wednesday, March 12, 7 a.m.
 Practice #6 Friday, March 14, 5:30 p.m. (Gately Stadium, Chicago, Ill.)
 Practice #7 Monday, March 17, 7 a.m.
 Practice #8 Wednesday, March 19, 7 a.m.
 Practice #9 Friday, March 21, 8 a.m.
      University of Illinois Spring Break, March 22-30
 Practice #10 Monday, March 31, 7 a.m.
 Practice #11 Wednesday, April 2, 7 a.m.
 Practice #12 Friday, April 4, 5:30 p.m. (Sacred Heart-Griffin HS, Springfield, Ill.)
 Practice #13 Tuesday, April 8, 8:30 a.m.
 Practice #14 Thursday, April 10, 8 p.m. (IHSFCA Coaches Clinic, April 10-12)
 Practice #15 Saturday, April 12, 2 p.m. (Orange and Blue Spring Game)
All dates and times subject to change

New Faces
Six early enrollees - four mid-year high school graduates and two junior college transfers - are on campus and will participate in spring practices, hoping to get a jump on playing time for the fall. The early high school grads are quarterback Chayce Crouch, offensive lineman Peter Cvijanovic, wide receiver Mike Dudek and defensive lineman Paul James III. The junior college transfers are wide receiver Geronimo Allison and defensive lineman Joe Fotu.

Continuity is Key
Tim Beckman's entire on-field coaching staff returns for 2014 after the team showed vast improvement in Beckman's second season. Returning for their third season with Beckman at Illinois are Tim Banks (defensive coordinator/secondary), Alex Golesh (tight ends/specialists/recruiting coordinator), Tim Salem (running backs/special teams) and Mike Ward (inside linebackers). Back for their second season are Bill Cubit (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Mike Bellamy (wide receivers), Greg Colby (defensive line), A.J. Ricker (offensive line) and Al Seamonson (outside linebackers).

Getting it Done in the Classroom
Under Beckman's leadership, the Illini have excelled in the classroom. A total of 42 players have earned degrees Beckman's first two seasons and a record number of football student-athletes posted at least a 3.0 grade-point-average in back-to-back-to-back semesters - 39 in spring 2012, 42 in fall 2012 and 43 in spring 2013. The cumulative team grade-point average his risen exponentially since Beckman's arrival, going from 2.70 in fall 2012, to 2.87 in spring 2013 to 3.07 in fall 2013. In addition, 21 Fighting Illini earned Academic All-Big Ten status in fall 2013, up from 18 in fall 2012.

2013 Highlights
• The 2013 Fighting Illini doubled their win total from 2012, going 4-8 overall and 1-7 in Big Ten Conference play to finish fifth in the Leaders Division.

• The revamped Illinois offense, directed by new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, made huge improvements. The Illini jumped at least 50 spots in the national rankings from 2012 to 2013 in first downs, passing offense, long scrimmage plays, total offense, passing efficiency and scoring offense, with the biggest turnaround an 95-place jump in first downs per game.

Category2012 (Nat'l Rk)2013 (Nat'l Rk)Difference
First Downs (per game)16.4 (120)24.0 (25)+95
Passing Offense (ypg)138.83 (107)287.7 (22)+85
Scrim. plays of 20+ yd34 (122)64 (44)+78
Total Offense (ypg)296.67 (119)426.7 (46)+73
Passing Efficiency113.42 (102)140.63 (35)+67
Scoring Offense (ppg)16.67 (119)29.7 (61)+58

• Sophomore CB/KR/PR V'Angelo Bentley became the first player in 124 years of Illinois football history to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same season. He had a 67-yard punt return for TD against Ohio State and a school-record 100-yard kick return TD against SIU in the season-opener. He led the Big Ten and ranked seventh nationally in punt return average (15.8 ypr).

• Sophomore RB Josh Ferguson broke the Illinois record for single-season receiving yards by a running back with 535 on 50 catches (10.7 ypc). His 44.6 receivng yards per game ranked second in the nation for a running back. Ferguson led the Illini in rushing yards (779) and total touchdowns (11), was second on the team in receiving yards (535), and ranks ninth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards per game (112.6).

• Senior LB Jonathan Brown ranked second in the Big Ten and 18th nationally in tackles per game (9.9), racking up 119 stops on the season. Brown ranked fourth in the conference in TFLs (15.0), racking up 45.5 during his Illinois career, good for third on the school's all-time TFLs list.

• Senior WR Steve Hull turned in one of the best seasons for a receiver in school history in his first season playing the position. Hull, who spent his first three years at Illinois as a starting safety, exploded for 40 catches, 653 yards and six TDs over the last four weeks of the season, the most receiving yards in the nation during that span. He had a career-high 224 yards receiving at Indiana on Nov. 9, the second-best single-game total in school history, and finished the season with 993 yards on 59 catches to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten status.

• Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase led the Big Ten and ranked in the top 25 nationally in total offense (295.2 ypg, 22nd), passing yards per game (272.7, 19th), completions per game (23.9 cpg, 11th) and completion percentage (66.7, 15th), while also breaking the UI single-season passing efficiency record (140.7).

• Scheelhaase finished his Illinois career as the school's all-time leader in total offense (10,634 yards, 7th-most in Big Ten history), ranked second in career completions (775), completion percentage (63.0) and rushing yards by a QB (2,066), and third in passing yardage (8,568), touchdown passes (55) and passing efficiency (130.2).