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July 24, 2018

Lovie Smith

Chicago, Illinois

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Illinois head coach Lovie Smith.

LOVIE SMITH: First off, it's an honor and a privilege to represent our flagship university, University of Illinois, here today.

It's also an honor and privilege for the three players that we brought up representing our team: Nick Allegretti, offensive lineman; Mike Dudek, a wide receiver; and Jamal Milan, a defensive lineman. All three of those players played their high school football right here in the Chicago area. So this is pretty big for them.

Year three, the overhaul for us, is underway. When we initially got here, we kind of established some things that we needed to take care of. One being facilities. We're really excited about our state-of-the-art facility that we'll be moving into this time next year. Should really get us up to par with the rest of the teams and really kind of go past them.

So this is an exciting time, something that our current players need and deserve, and also should give us a boost with recruiting as guys come on our campus down in Champaign.

A lot of exciting things, of course, are happening. We talk about year three of the rebuild. When you start 15 true freshman and one redshirt freshman, it tells you where you are and what you're doing with your program. And that's where we are. Those players got a lot of valuable experience last year. We've seen them get bigger, stronger, faster off the field and just their football knowledge has grown quite a bit.

We really like that. And year three will produce results from some of the things that we've done with it. Also excited about some new additions to our staff. Rod Smith on the offensive side, coordinating offense, along with Cory Patterson, high school coach from the St. Louis area.

And on the defensive side, Austin Clark, needed a -- we lost a good defensive line coach and needed one to come in and didn't really know an awful lot about him until I started talking to him and knew early on he was a guy I wouldn't the staff.

And Gill Byrd, a guy I have a long history with, as a man, one of the best men I've met in my life, and he'll do a great job coordinating the passing part of our defense, along with coaching our safeties.

So, we're excited about that. We realize we haven't won enough football games. But they come, if you continue to do the right things. We've changed the culture of our program. We know the look that we would like to have on the football field.

And, again, we're anxious to get to year three. We're excited about our schedule, too. When you only leave the state of Illinois only one time until late October, you have to be excited about that. We need to get off to a good start. Excited about playing a Friday night game in open Big Ten play.

There's a lot of good things going on down in Champaign, and for us just to get to training camp, we have some training camp, legitimate training camp battles, starting with who would be our quarterback.

So that will be a great competition with, of course, Cam Thomas, who finished up in that role, along with incoming guys, whether it be a graduate transfer quarterback or incoming freshman.


Q. Whether you played all these freshmen last year, now there's a new redshirt rule, I'm wondering how that maybe would have changed things last year or how you approach with the four games and you can keep them redshirted?
LOVIE SMITH: Last year, I don't think it would have changed much. We felt like we needed to play those freshmen that gave us the best chance to win. It was kind as simple as that. How I look at the rule, how we look at the rule going forward, I think it's a good thing. Even though we played a lot of young guys last year, odds are we'll play more this year, but you have options.

If we feel like those are the best guys we have early on, we'll play them, but have that option of going through a season and knowing for sure what you have in some of the freshmen if it be later in the year.

This past year, you know, maybe the two highest recruited rated players that we recruited this past year, Kendrick Green and Lere Oladipo, we didn't actually get them on the football field. Today we'll have a chance to see all the freshmen. It's pretty important.

Q. You mentioned the three guys you have here today, all Chicagoland natives. How does Chicago factor into your recruiting game plan now, and how has that evolved since your first class you recruited to Champaign?
LOVIE SMITH: With our first class, of course, as you identified, the recruiting areas we need to be strong in, of course, Chicago is right at the top of that. We will put a lot of time and effort into trying to keep our best players in the state. Of course, the guys from Chicago. How that has changed, that's still the case right now. Of course, other schools know what type of talent we have in our high school program. And that's a chore.

We've lost a few guys here in our state, but the University of Illinois is the right place for a lot of people. We'll get our share. And in time we need to be able to keep the guys in our state here as much as anything.

But, again, we recognize what's up here, and we'll continue to recruit it hard.

Q. You said year three will produce results. How much higher should the bar be for your program? What are you expecting?
LOVIE SMITH: I don't think you should ever say this is how many wins we have to have or we're going to get. But for us, when we say improvement, when you talk about the young players, first time on the field, I just know behind the scenes they've gotten so much better.

You look at what happened during the course of the year. There were about three games where really we didn't have a chance to win last year. The rest of the time we played competitive ball.

So this year, taking another step, as I talk about our home schedule, we have great fans. They've been (indiscernible) fans through some tough times. But getting out of the gate early on, getting momentum. And then we'll see.

I just know that we're a better football team right now. And normally, with my history, it's said that that shows results during the course of the year.

Q. Mike Dudek got back on the field last year after back-to-back ACL injuries. What do you expect from Dudek this year, and how is he leading your receiving corps?
LOVIE SMITH: It was good to get Mike back on the field last year. He wasn't completely healthy and he didn't finish the season healthy, but he is now.

And it's been a while, but Mike Dudek is an excellent football player. And as we talk about all the young players we have on our roster, we do have guys like Mike, like Nick, like Jamal, that have played a lot of football and we need them to be who they should be.

And that's what we've seen. Mike's had an excellent offseason. Completely healthy now. And our new offense that we'll be running, he'll have an opportunity to be the featured guy and be able to -- we should see a lot of production from him. Again, he's in excellent shape, and he's going to have an outstanding year.

Q. With depth on the offensive line being a concern heading into this season, how important was it for these now sophomore offensive linemen to get experience on the field, and what steps do they need to take just to improve upon this year?
LOVIE SMITH: I think, first off, just experience. I know it's coach talk, but there's no substitute for it. So for those guys to get a lot -- I'm talking about Bobby Roundtree, Jamal Woods, Isaiah Gay, those players got a lot of time. That has to help you an awful lot.

But we will be in that situation. Those guys are older. But depth is a problem a little bit. But there's good, young depth coming.

I mentioned some of the guys like Lere Oladipo, another guy from the Chicago area, he's a good football player. I know these young guys can play and that experience will come. Again, Coach Austin Clark does an awesome job. He's an excellent teacher. That's exactly what our players need right now. We like the position we're in defensively with those guys stepping up.

Another player I should mention, too, that went down with a serious knee injury in training camp last year, Jake Hansen, really excited about what he'll bring to our defense, too. He's healthy. He should have an outstanding year.

Q. Spring ball really had Cam Thomas taking reps as quarterback. What's it going to be like heading into the fall camp with the rest of the quarterbacks on campus?
LOVIE SMITH: Well, going back to spring practice, we had really one scholarship quarterback that went through spring practice with us. So Cam got a lot of reps, which he needed, and of course wanted, and we saw a lot of progress with him.

He also knew that come training camp, there would be more competition coming on campus. When you're a competitor, you want that. You want to prove to the rest of the team that I'm the guy.

As I mentioned, it's legitimate quarterback competition we have in training camp. We as coaches will put the guys in position and let it play out. And the guy we end up with we'll feel really good about.

Cam brings an awful lot. I described him as a developmental passer, but he has a strong arm. Of course he did a lot of things with his feet last year, but we've seen him -- just like we talk about with the rest of the freshmen, he's grown an awful lot this past year.

Q. Record aside, is this kind of how you expected or envisioned year three of the program overhaul as you called it would be like?
LOVIE SMITH: Thanks for saying "record aside." A lot easier answering it now.

Yes. You know, as we came into our program, we evaluated it. We thought, of course, we needed to do a lot better job, we as a coaching staff needed to do a good job, but we needed to upgrade the talent level. We're doing that. Considering where we are, the facilities we have right now, people kind of see what's coming, you know, with the facilities and everything else.

In an ideal world, we wanted to have more wins right now. But I like where we are. Now that's behind us, I like how we're sitting year three. And this is when we expect to see results.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

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