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Illinois looks to rebound from season-ending slide

2013-07-25T00:00:00Z 2013-07-25T21:08:20Z Illinois looks to rebound from season-ending slideJAY COHEN AP Sports Writer nwitimes.com
July 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CHICAGO | Illinois lost its last nine games last year, including a 50-14 loss at Northwestern to conclude the dismal 2-10 season.

For quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, it was quite the learning experience.

"Going through last year, you learned a lot," he said, "not only about yourself on the field, but you learned about yourself just as from a character standpoint, from a leadership standpoint. I think leadership is really easy when things are going well and everything's good, but you don't truly know yourself until you deal with some struggles and some hard stuff."

Scheelhaase threw for 1,361 yards and four touchdowns last season with eight interceptions. He also rushed for 303 yards and four more TDs. He ranks fifth on the school's career list with 7.091 yards of total offense and is sixth with 5,296 yards passing.

Illinois hired former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit in January to serve as offensive coordinator, and Scheelhaase is excited for the possibilities for his senior season.

"It's been great working with coach Cubit," he said. "He's a guy that, you know his resume speaks for itself. He's been around the game for a long time. I think that's something that's very important for us as players, just to understand that he knows what he's talking about."

 

COMMUNICATION KEY FOR NEBRASKA'S PELINI

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has a message for potential football players: Put away your phones, tablets and computers, and start practicing your communication skills.

Pelini said Thursday at Big Ten media days that the rapid rise of social media and other forms of communication have had a detrimental effect on the communication skills that are found more frequently in older generations.

"These kids, they're in a different day and age," he said. "Getting them to, obviously that goes to communication on the field, but I'm also talking about ... building leaders and developing leaders and getting guys, because to lead you've got to be able communicate. You can't lead anything if you don't have great communication, and that isn't natural to this generation."

"If you had a problem with somebody, our generation just walked up and you confront somebody, you talk to them face to face. Now they send a text."

The 45-year-old Pelini said communication on the field has become a major point of emphasis for the Cornhuskers.

"We can't harp on it enough," he said, "to the point where, you can't assume anything. You have to constantly enforce it and reinforce it and reinforce it again and demand it."

 

A BAD WORD

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 14th season at Iowa, making him the dean of Big Ten coaches. Even if he doesn't care for the term.

"Never call a football coach a dean," he said. "That's a misnomer."

Ferentz begins the year with a 100-74 record with the Hawkeyes, behind only Hayden Fry on the school victory list. Iowa is coming off a 4-8 season, including four losses by three points or less, and opens on Aug. 31 against Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois.

Ferentz said his long run at the school is attributable to a couple of factors.

"I think it's a reflection of two things," he said. "I work with great people, day in and day out, and then I work at a place that's sort of like the Pittsburgh Steelers. I think that traditionally our administration gets it and they understand there's going to be highs and lows."

 

COACHING TREE

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Jim Tressel never overruled him while he was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, and it's important to him to give the same freedom to his coaches with the Spartans.

The way Tressel treated his assistants is something that sticks with Dantonio to this day.

"I try to do a lot of things like Tress in terms of how you treat people and things of that nature," Dantonio said. "Again, I go back, you know what are my goals for our assistant coaches? It's those relationships. It's launching a career. Their graduation is when we go (to) a BCS game or a Rose Bowl or January 1 game or a championship game. That's their graduation, and then I help them launch their career."

BOUNCING BACK

Year three has typically been the charm in previous stops for Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, and Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood hopes that's the case this season.

"Everybody's saying the third year is when he goes nuts," said Kirkwood, who ran for 926 yards on 218 carries with six rushing touchdowns in 2012. "I can see where he's going because this team has become physically tougher, it's become mentally tougher. We're eliminating some of the mental mistakes that hurt us in a lot of big games. And it's all because of Kill, he's an excellent coach."

The 51-year-old Kill was 10-2 in 2003, his third year at Southern Illinois, and went 10-3 at Northern Illinois in 2010 before accepting the Golden Gophers job. He was 3-9 in his inaugural Minnesota season and 6-7 last year.

Kirkwood enters his third season after starting 13 games as a sophomore and winning outstanding offensive player honors.

"I like where I'm at," he said. "I'm still learning every day. There are things I've worked on in the off season especially to make defenders miss in open spaces ... As long as I become a productive back, that's all I can ask for."

 

HAZELL & PURDUE

Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston said Darrell Hazell barely missed a beat as he settled in as the program's 35th head coach after his hiring late last year.

"The adjustment really hasn't been rough at all," said Gaston, a 6-foot 2 senior from Chicago. "He got everybody to buy into his system because he came in confident and knew he had a foundation and knew it would work to take us to the next level."

Hazell, who succeeded the fired Danny Hope, moved over from Kent State where he went 11-3 last year, reached the GoDaddy.com Bowl and was Mid-American coach of the year.

Gaston had 19 solo tackles and nine assists along with two fumble recoveries for a Purdue team that went 6-7 overall. He's pleased with how the defensive line has developed through spring and the approaching fall practices.

"I think we're in pretty good shape," he said. "We have a great group of guys. We have young guys and have other guys who have played. The main thing we're focusing on is being dominant."

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