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Rod Smith has turned Reggie Corbin into a lethal weapon

Corbin is the first Illini back to top 1,000 yards since 2010.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

On a Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska, Reggie Corbin did what no other Illinois player has done in almost a decade: rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.

After appearing sparingly in eight games last season with only 78 yards on 18 carries, the production from the junior out of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was something only he and the rest of the Illini offense could’ve wished for.

“Reggie has probably been our most consistent player throughout this season,” said offensive coordinator Rod Smith. “He’s done an outstanding job week in and week out. He comes to work every day of practice — and he does it like he’s playing for a championship every weekend. He puts that much into his craft, and it’s paying off for him on Saturdays.”

The two have engaged in friendly banter since Smith took over this past offseason. Smith often jokes that Corbin — the second leading rusher in the nation in terms of yards per carry — is “slow” and insists he could take him in a foot race.

Unfortunately, Corbin’s historic day was cut short after suffering a leg injury toward the middle of the second quarter. He had already posted 59 yards on just nine attempts and looked as if he was on his way to another impressive performance after putting up 213 rushing yards against Minnesota the week prior.

On being the first Illini to pass the 1,000-yard mark since 2010, Corbin said: “You can’t really feel satisfied right now. Maybe after this season I’ll feel satisfied for about two or three days, but right now, there’s no satisfaction. Just happy for my offensive line, and that it makes the offense feel like we actually did something. It’s in the record books forever, so hopefully that means more to my family.”

Corbin burst onto the scene as a freshman, racking up over 500 yards on fewer than 90 carries, even getting the starting nod twice. But as a sophomore, he saw his playing time and his production decrease under offensive coordinator Garrick McGee.

With Rod Smith at the helm, though, things changed for Corbin drastically in 2018.

“[Smith’s] scheme is ridiculous,” Corbin said. “I don’t know how he does it. When he comes up with something, I’m just like, ‘Wow! I never saw that, I never thought of that, I’ve never seen this before.’ It always works. Whenever he calls a play, I know it’s going to work.

“Even when he asks me to block,” Corbin laughed as he gave a hearty smile to his coach sitting next to him.

Sophomore Alex Palczewski, who has started all but one game over his two years in Champaign, saw Corbin sidelined for most of last year as the sophomore back waited fro his chance to get back on the field and prove himself.

Now, Palczewski is paving the way for one of the most efficient runners in the country.

“I know Reggie just hit 1,000 yards and it’s awesome when you see that because all of us have worked extremely hard for that,” Palczewski said. “All offseason we just grinded, and it’s nice to see that actually pay off. He deserves the credit. He’s been extremely good. Ever since he’s been here, he’s always helped lead and always been around people.”

Smith said Corbin’s efforts are paying off on Saturdays, and they could be soon paying off on Sunday.

But his offensive coordinator may not let that happen relatively soon, even though he has one year of eligibility remaining.

“I’m glad I got him for another year hopefully,” Smith said. “I think he will [stay] because I won’t let him go.”

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