September 2010 Archives

Ron Zook is studying more than the game plan for this week. He's also keeping a close eye on police reports and medical exams as Illinois prepares to face No. 2 Ohio State in its Big Ten opener Saturday (11 a.m., BTN) in Champaign.
The status of offensive lineman Hugh Thornton, who survived a strained-neck scare vs. Northern Illinois on Sept. 18, now is up in the air because the sophomore from Oberlin, Ohio, was arrested in connection with a weekend fight at Joe's Brewery in Champaign. The matter is complicated by the fact that this is Thornton's second under-age drinking incident. He received 12 months of court supervision after the first incident, on Sept. 20, 2009.
``I really have nothing yet to comment on. There's still too much gray out there,'' Zook said Tuesday, adding that he also will consult with athletic director Ron Guenther this week to decide on the status of Thornton and bandit Michael Buchanan, who was arrested on DUI charges after Illinois' opener against Missouri.
On the medical front, it appears that receiver/backup quarterback Eddie McGee (sprained ankle) will be available, while ace cornerback Terry Hawthorne (foot fracture) won't play. Nate Palmer (toe), who was backing up Buchanan at the bandit (defensive end/linebacker hybrid) in training camp, is likely to return. Fullback/tight end Zach Becker (broken foot), a projected starter, also has been cleared to play.
Thornton and Buchanan are the latest in a string of Illinois football players who have had brushes with the law. It includes Walt Aikens, who was dismissed from the team in August because of a burglary incident after starting four games at safety late last year.
That's three starters with legal problems in a short period of time. And that's pretty embarrassing, to say the least, for the image of a school like Illinois.
``I don't think there's any question you worry about it,'' Zook said. ``As we tell them all the time, we represent the University of Illinois. We take it personally.''
Zook, who's fighting for his coaching life this fall, added, howeer, that scrapes with the law are not unique to the Illini.
``If you go around the country, unfortunately, we [coaches] all deal with it, we all have it,'' he said. ``Some things are worse than others. But certainly you worry about it, just like you worry about your own children and how they act.''
The Illini coach, who played for some highly successful Miami of Ohio teams in the '70s, couldn't help but think about some of the antics of those players when several of his former teammates came to Champaign for an Illinois game and mini-reunion earlier this month.
``It's changed,'' Zook said. ``About 12 of the guys I played with were here. That's a group that lost one game. As I told them, `None of us would have been here.' But times are different, and rightfully so. [Today's players] are held to a different level of behavior, and it's important that we continue to do that.''
But that makes things tough for a coach on the hot seat who's trying to prepare for a team that's ranked second in the nation.


Offensive guard Hugh Thornton, who left Illinois' 28-22 victory over Northern Illinois with a neck injury, has a strained muscle and is expected to return for Illinois' next game, vs. Ohio State on Oct. 2, coach Ron Zook said Sunday.
``They did an MRI and a CT scan,'' Zook said. ``Hugh just has a strained neck.''
Thornton was injured late in the third quarter in what looked like helmet-to-helmet contact as he attempted to execute a block.
``He put his head down, which is exactly what you shouldn't do,'' the coach said. ``We'll keep him out of contact this week, but he'll be ready for Ohio State.''

Illinois defeated Northern Illinois 28-22 Saturday behind Mikel Leshoure's fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.
After NIU (1-2) closed to 21-19 with six minutes to play, Leshoure scored on a 29-yard run with 1:43 left to give Illinois (2-1) a cushion.
The Illini now will take a week off before beginning Big Ten play vs Ohio State on Oct. 1. The Illinois defense also had a good effort against the Huskies, clamping down after NIU scored a pair of first-quarter touchdowns to take a 12-7 lead.

Northern Illinois football coach Jerry Kill, who was released from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago late Thursday, attended the Huskies' walk-through in DeKalb Friday and accompanied the team to Champaign.
His exact role when NIU takes on Illinois Saturday was not immediately known.  But defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who was designated to serve as interim coach if Kill was unavailable, said earlier this week that he would be ``shocked'' if Kill wasn't involved in some capacity, either on the sidelines coaching or up in the press box.
Kill had been hospitalized since Sunday for dehydration. Shortly before the Huskies opened their season at Iowa State, the third-year NIU coach underwent what was described as minor surgery.
Kill would not reveal the nature of the surgery but said it was not related to the kidney cancer surgery he underwent in 2005 while coaching at Southern Illinois University. He has been in remission since and NIU Athletic Director Jeff Compher reiterated this week that his current health issues were not cancer-related.
(Thanks to my Sun-Times Media Group colleague, Rick Armstrong, who contributed to this report.)

Nathan Scheelhaase was named the Big Ten freshman of the week for leading the Illini to a 35-3 victory over Southern Illinois. The redshirt freshman from Kansas City, Mo., passed for 229 yards and two touchdowns, completing 14 of 18  with no turnovers.

About the blogger

Herb Gould started with the Sun-Times in 1977 and has covered several teams, including the Blackhawks. He is a long-time beat reporter covering the Fighting Illini and the Big Ten for the Sun-Times.

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