Illini Conclude Day Eight of Spring Drills


April 7, 1999

The Fighting Illini continued spring workouts with practice eight on the East practice field of Memorial Stadium. Warm and sunny conditions prevailed with a strong South wind. Temperatures were in the lower-70's with gusty South winds to 25 m.p.h.

Wednesday's practice included 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 full-contact drills and concluded with controlled scrimmage action.

On special teams, the Illini return both kick Neil Rackers and punter Steve Fitts. Rackers enters his fourth year as place-kicker, while Fitts returns after an impressive freshman campaign.

"Neil Rackers has had a very good spring," said Special Teams/Tight Ends Coach Greg McMahon. "He has really stepped up and we expect him to have a great senior season."

"Steve Fitts has not rested on his laurels. He has continued to work hard and has a chance to be a tremendous punter for us."

Another key position, yet often overlooked, is long-snapper. Junior Nathan Hodel returns to those duties this season.

"Nathan was productive for us last year and has carried that into the spring," said McMahon. "He continues to work hard at his consistency."

While the kickers refine their techniques during spring practice, the coverage units are working hard to improve. Punt and kickoff coverage are the focus.

"Collectively our coverage teams have done well this spring," said McMahon. "Our net punting and our kickoff coverage are the two phases we are spending the majority of time on. To get where we want to go as a football team, we have to have better production from our coverage teams."

Rocky Harvey and Steve Havard will return kicks for the Illini. Harvey also has emerged as the leading candidate at punt-returner. "Rocky has a chance to be an outstanding punt returner," said McMahon.

The Illini return to practice Friday, April 9 at 3:45 p.m. and Saturday, April 10 at 2 p.m. (scrimmage) and host the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association "Coaches Clinic" this weekend. The Clinic is expected to draw a record 2,000 coaches from throughout the state for seminars, coaching clinics and social events Thursday-Saturday, April 8-10.

The featured attraction is a coaching seminar delivered by Illinois native and former Eastern Illinois star Mike Shanahan, now the head coach of the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Shanahan's address is scheduled for Saturday, April 10 from 9:15-11:40 a.m. at the Assembly Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the door Saturday morning for $ 10. The Coaches Clinic pre-registration is $ 50 and costs $ 60 at the door and includes a Friday cookout, clinic notebooks, over 40 high school, college and pro speakers, F.C.A. Breakfast, social hour and the annual Hall of Fame banquet. For additional clinic information, call (217) 244-0016.

Media can attend the Shanahan clinic by requesting complimentary tickets from Dave Johnson by calling (217) 333-8221.