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Behind Enemy Lines: Western Illinois

A talk with McDonough County Voice sport editor Scott Holland about the upcoming game.

Behind Enemy Lines returns from if offseason hiatus with a new twist: Not only will it be done before the game, but after, allowing for maximum schadenfreude.

This week, I reached out to Scott Holland, the Sport Editor at the McDonough County Voice in Macomb, Illinois. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions and will be returning for part two on Monday. Come back then to see us discuss the events of the game from the other side of the fence.

1. I’m willing to bet that most non-Macomb-based Illini fans don’t know much about the Leathernecks. In football terms, what is this team? Who is your best player? What style of offense do you run?

WIU is a team that is going to try to be a physical team that hits you hard on both sides of the ball.

Players to watch on offense are (RB) Steve McShane, who WIU will get creative with in the passing, running and return game. He’s Western’s top playmaker. Quarterback Sean McGuire triggers the offense, he’s a big guy who has a strong, accurate arm. If he gets time and is patient he can pick a defense apart.

Offensively, WIU will throw a lot of motion, shifts and personnel groupings at teams, but it’s a basic pro-style offense that looks to establish the run, then try and go over the top with play action.

2. Leathernecks is an interesting team name. I’m sure I could look this up myself on Wikipedia but I want to hear it from you: Where’d the name come from?

Western Illinois University holds the distinction of being the only non-military institution to officially have its nickname derived from a branch of the military service. The school began use of the Marine Corps’ official nickname, “The Fighting Leathernecks,” in 1927 when then-athletic director and head baseball, basketball and football coach Ray “Rock” Hanson was granted permission by the U.S. Navy, based on his status as a Marine hero, to use the Marine’s official seal and bulldog mascot along with their nickname.

(I didn’t memorize that, I just cut and paste from the school’s website)

3. We both reside in the great state of Illinois. Talking about it as a whole and not being simply confined to Macomb, what’s one of the greatest aspects of this state? Best food joint in the entire state?

I originally come from the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, so I will always say Quad City-style pizza trumps Chicago as the best in the state. A large sausage pizza from Harris or Frank’s is must for me when I visit family.

As far as an Illinois dish, I don’t think you can go wrong with a horseshoe, I prefer hamburger and lattice fries.

4. What has been the pinnacle of Western Illinois football? Also, have they ever produced an NFL player?

WIU has had strong teams in the past 20 years, making it to the postseason several times in the mid-late 90s and early 2000s. WIU is going through another pretty good era of football, making the postseason twice in the last three years.

Western has had a few NFL roster players in recent years. Rodney Harrison, Don Beebe, Frank Winters and Bryan Cox are the most notable.

5. Lovie Smith is at the start of Year 3 in rebuilding the program. How do you think it’s going so far?

I like the beard.

6. I always like to know: What got you into journalism?

My baseball coach in high school asked me if I wanted a job at the paper over the summer after I graduated. He worked in news and told me to come to the office for an interview. He neglected to tell me which office because the news/sales office was in a different building than sports and photo.

I showed up at the sports office and they ended up hiring me.

7. Got any good stories to tell about the history of the WIU football program? Crazy coaches? Wacky traditions? You know, stories that start with, “Legend has it...”?

Some of the best Macomb/WIU stories do not actually come from Western.

About a decade ago the St. Louis Rams held their training camp on campus, I was a student the last season the Rams were in town and for the most part the city and players got along, especially if residents could smuggle in beer to the players staying in the dorm after curfew.

8. What do you expect to see in the game on Saturday?

I think the game is close for about a half, but I believe eventually Illinois’ size, strength and depth wear down Western and the Illini win by two scores.

Again, a big thank you to Scott Holland. I hope you’ll all return for Monday’s post-game interview.

Illustration provided by Aaron Rench, the artist of You Are Looking Live, a college sports art blog, posting a different illustrated matchup each week. If you would like to see more, go to tumblr, Instagram, or Twitter. You can also support the work by subscribing on Patreon.

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