While Lovie Smith is/was no stranger to college football, Saturday’s contest against Murray State marked his debut as a FBS head coach. So when Josh Whitman entered the Illini locker room with a game ball, there was really one person he could possibly hand it to.
That was a very cool moment to cap off a special day in Champaign. Congratulations, coach! Hopefully we’ll see some even bigger celebrations later this Fall.
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After years of disappointments on the field and some embarrassments off of it, Smith marked a new era with an overwhelming 52-3 victory against Murray State in the season opener at Memorial Stadium.
Based on early impressions, Illinois players believe anything Smith tells them. When Smith inherited what he called "a heavy team,'' he ordered players to cut weight. Quarterback Wes Lunt cited the example of running back Kendrick Foster, who scored on two 56-yard touchdown runs after reducing his body fat to less than 10 percent.
I’ve been struggling to put this concept into words since the spring game. The best word I could come up with was "calm". Zook, Beckman, and Cubit were a bit frantic and Lovie is calm. He’s a professional.
"There were quite a few emotions," Smith said. "A lot of anticipation for the game. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. Just excited about today. I talked a lot about the gameday atmosphere on a college campus. I saw it firsthand today."
"The senior class has more players than we did when we started," Leman said. "I really like the senior class. I like the defensive line. There are pieces there, and Lovie is going to recruit. I don’t know how many they’ll win. I know they’ll be in more games."
"It’s all about having fun," Foster beamed. "I’ve been playing since I was 7 years old, but I finally felt today again this is just football. Through all the trials and tribulations since I got here, I finally got the opportunity to display my talent and show what Peoria, Ill., produces."