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Illinois’ brand new Smith Center lives up to the hype

The Illini welcome Akron this week to kick off 2019.

@IlliniFootball // Twitter

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The 2019 season is officially underway and Illinois kicks off on Saturday against Akron.

The 2018 college football season ended with Clemson bringing home another national title, and as a new season begins, the Illini hope to foster some of that same success the Tigers have experienced in recent years.

When the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Center was under construction, Josh Whitman and various Illinois officials traveled to various facilities across the country to “steal” ideas for their new multimillion dollar building.

The idea of a fresh smelling locker room, a rooftop terrace, a bowling alley in the student lounge, the construction of meeting rooms, and the aesthetic of the main lobby were ideas stolen from the reigning champions, Clemson.

Illinois’ Athletic Director Josh Whitman said that Illinois hopes to “use [the facility] as a really effective tool in recruiting” in a similar way to Clemson who consistently grabs some of the best recruits in the country.

With using the brand new facility as a pitch to potential recruits, the Illini hope to grab an advantage in that regard over other teams, thus building up the program to success in the future.

“From the moment they burst inside of the building, attitude wise, [the energy] has been elevated,” Smith said.

“We feel like a brand new team right now,” said running back Reggie Corbin. “Everyone’s excited to go to work everyday.”

But if the Illini want to be like Clemson they have to win, and it all begins this Saturday against Akron at Memorial Stadium.

The Illini won’t look quite the same this season as they did last year. Their quarterback Brandon Peters is brand new. Peters is a graduate transfer from Michigan, and Lovie Smith had high praise for his new QB1.

“Love everything about him,” Smith said. “He has picked up the offense quickly.”

In terms of whether or not Peters is prepared, Smith kept it brief: “He’s ready to play.”

Offensively, Illinois was led by Reggie Corbin a year ago, who tallied 1,085 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Corbin elected to return for his senior season and is looking forward to the season beginning.

Corbin also delivered a very unselfish goal: “Get all of my offensive linemen drafted.”

As for the rest of the Illini roster, what was once a young group of players now has more experience than many teams in the Big Ten.

“It’s amazing the transition they’ve made,” Smith said.

Defensively, where lies Smith’s expertise, there is certainly a massive hole and Smith addressed it.

“We will definitely miss Bobby Roundtree,” Smith said about the junior defensive lineman who suffered a severe neck and spinal injury over the offseason. But Smith voiced his confidence in the rest of the unit to know his defense has improved, but gave away no secrets.

“The test comes this week,” Smith said. “I’m just going off of what it looks like before you get to show it on the football field.”

The Illini will look to show it all this weekend against Akron, who is coming off a 4-8 season a year ago, identical to Illinois’ underachieving record.

In terms of team goals, Corbin said the goal is to win every single game, making this game against Akron that much more important.

“In order to win all of them you have to win the first one,” Corbin said.

The Illini will look to do just that on Saturday when Akron comes to Memorial Stadium.