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August 2, 2010

Ron Zook


THE MODERATOR: Next up is Ron Zook.
COACH ZOOK: Sorry if my voice is a little raspy, took in a little too much water yesterday. But yesterday was the end; and I, like everyone else, is excited to be here. Obviously at the University of Illinois we have a lot of new things going on and excitement. Got a new quarterback that I think everyone will enjoy watching. And we all want to see the progress that he's going to make and obviously new coaches.
So we're excited to get going, looking forward to it. The attitude has been great. The transition was probably as smooth as it possibly could have ever been with the coaching changes.
And I just, like everyone else, I'm looking forward to getting going. We start -- come in Wednesday night and Thursday is our first practice. So with that --

Q. Do you personally feel more pressure going into this season? And how do you keep the team from being negatively affected by that?
COACH ZOOK: I wasn't expecting that question. Thank you. No, I don't, to be honest with you. I think everyone that stands up here today has got pressure. Obviously some of us have more than others. I think the thing that you try to do is you do the best you can do.
The players -- you know, you kind of circle the wagons and they stay close. As I said, I've been very, very impressed with the way they've been around this summer. Not necessarily working out, but just being around the offices, being around, watching tape, being around and saying, hey, coach, what's going on. And it's been a lot of fun.
I've probably done more things this summer. I've skied more than I have skied that I can remember. My wife had me buying appliances this summer, which I've never done in my life and will probably never ever do it again.
But I, like everyone else, when you get new things, everyone's excited. And everyone wants to see what's going on. And I've been around Nathan Scheelhaase long enough now that I think at every level, whether it be college, the National Football League or high school, a lot will have to do with your quarterback. And it's going to be important that our offensive staff, Coach Petrino and the offensive coaches, that we keep as much pressure off him as we can.
To answer your question, I don't feel any more pressure. I'm excited. Looking forward to getting going.

Q. Just following up on that, did you feel more relaxed at this point than you have last year, even the last couple of years?
COACH ZOOK: I really do. And I don't have a reason why, but as I said, our coaching staff -- this spring I noticed it -- have done a magnificent job. A lot has to do with how the coaches are. They've been there and been under the gun, coached in big-time games.
And the way the players, the way they responded, I think it's a tribute to both the coaches and players, the type of young men we have. And our guys, they feel like they have something to prove, which I think is exciting to be around that kind of attitude.
It's kind of like the attitude we had a couple of years when we were fortunate enough to go to the Rose Bowl. I think on paper we're probably every bit if not better a football team than we were that year. But still there's so many things that enter into it.
And I think it's one of the things that makes it so exciting.

Q. We read last week that you had a late signee, defensive player. Could you talk about if he's going to be an impact player and how your defense will be in general?
COACH ZOOK: Fritz Rock is a young man that a guy -- Coach Petrino, actually we tried to recruit his brother when I first got to University of Illinois. And Coach Petrino was recruiting him when he was at the University of Arkansas as a receiver athlete.
He made his test scores. He's qualified. He's cleared with the clearinghouse. Everything's good there. And as I got to know the kid and got to know his brother, I knew his brother from my years at Florida. He went to Edison High School down in Miami. There was a little bit of a relationship there. And a lot of times you know someone who knows someone who knows someone.
And so he came in last week. We had to make sure that everything was cleared with once again the clearinghouse and with our university.
But very, very impressed. He's an athletic guy, how he comes in and plays as a freshman. Hopefully we're passed that, where we don't have to rely on a lot of freshmen. I think that's one of the things, when we first got to the University of Illinois, we had a bunch of them playing.
I think last year was the least number we've played since we've been there. And hopefully this year will be even less. He's an athletic guy. Big, great looking person. And he's hungry.
Sometimes I tell our players, you know a lot of times you don't realize how important something is until you don't have it.
There's a guy that couldn't play last year, so he's excited, and he's got a great group of people behind him. And he's looking forward to getting started.
One thing you asked about the defense. Defensively, once again, going back to the spring -- and I told our football team in the very last meeting that what was going to be important that we're a better football team when we start camp on Thursday than we were at the end of spring.
And we can't be there as coaches. The summer term is -- there's one time we have the least amount of work in terms of football with your players. And I told them all, it was going to be important that you guys make yourselves better.
And I know they've talked about -- and this is leadership and so forth, where they've had their own sessions out there all summer long. Many of them have told me, and you'll get a chance to talk to Tavon Wilson and Clay Nurse today, but it's been the best summer they've had in terms of working on football.
Usually I'm the last one to leave. I don't know how many times I've had to turn the video stuff off. They leave the projector on, which is good. It means they're there paying attention to it. So I think defensively, you know, we're doing some different things.
But I'm excited about the way they've picked it up, and once again I think we're doing enough moving around that we'll get away with any lack of size in our front.

Q. What are your thoughts in general on the expansion and also the possibility of having a championship game?
COACH ZOOK: I think obviously because of the Big Ten Network, expansion was inevitable. I think it's great when you bring a school like Nebraska into the conference. All it does is make it that much a better conference. Obviously competitive. You bring in a great program, a program that's got a lot of national attention.
And I think probably the championship game is inevitable. I'm probably a little bit different than the other coaches. I know when I first came to the Big Ten, we had just started playing the 12 games. And there was a lot of discussion why are we playing 12 games, and it's hard on them. Now we're talking about playing 14.
But I think because of obviously what it means to the Big Ten conference financially and, of course, the exposure, I don't think there's any question there will probably be a big championship game.

Q. Coach, you've had a lot of staff turnover. You just talked about the players having something to prove. With all the improvements in the stadiums and new staff members, do you have something to prove?
COACH ZOOK: Well, kind of goes along with the question that Shannon asked. I don't think there's any question I have something to prove. I think that's why you're in this profession. It's about winning.
And you have to win, and we have to go do that. But I don't know that we can do a whole lot more than what we've done right now. As I said, the coaching staff, the way they've gotten together, the way they've jelled, as I sit in there, I've been able to look at it a little bit differently. I've been able to step back and maybe not be quite as involved.
And that's been -- it's been kind of a relief as well. And when you can kind of give your suggestions and talk about things that maybe people have tried to do to us in the past or going to try to do to us, just let your players play.
It goes back to, like I said earlier, I think probably on paper our football team is probably a better football team than it was two years ago. But that doesn't -- it still goes back to you gotta win games and that's the bottom line.

Q. You're playing Northwestern towards the end of the season at Wrigley Field. Can you talk about how much an extra special experience it will be, kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you and the team?
COACH ZOOK: I think it's exciting. When I first got here, had the opportunity to go to Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs and all the mystique that goes around the stadium, and come to find out that at that particular time that there were more football games played in Wrigley Field than any other stadium in the National Football League, until Giants Stadium just recently, of course now it's down.
I just think that it's something that both universities will grow from -- not necessarily grow, but expound on.
And our players are going to be -- it's exciting. How many football players can say they've had an opportunity to play at Wrigley Field with all the mystique and so forth that's there.
And I think it's a great, great thing. I'm looking forward to it. I really am. I know our players are excited about it. I'm sure there will be some logistics that aren't exactly right. That's part of it. I know the end zone there by home plate is going to be a little tight, put some pads up there. There's fields that are just as tight in the country that people have to play in.
I just think it's a neat thing for both universities. It's great exposure. And, once again, it's an opportunity to play in a stadium like that.

Q. One of the most important questions for your defense this year is going to be the health of Martez Wilson. Is he healthy coming in this year, and what are you expecting from him on the defensive side?
COACH ZOOK: Once again, Martez got hurt in the first game last year. That was a big blow. He was, no question, the leader.
He had a great, great spring. He had a great camp. He was playing as well as any Mike linebacker I've been around probably anywhere.
And for him to get hurt in the first game, obviously, was a big, big blow. But he's back 100 percent.
In fact, actually he went through spring. He didn't go through the contact. It was hard to keep him out of it because he was always trying to stick his face where he shouldn't stick it.
But he's had no issues. He's been 100 percent all off-season. And I really felt like last year it was going to be his opportunity to show people that he had a chance to be the kind of player that we all felt like when we recruited. And every player, they all kind of mature at their own rate.
Here's a guy that didn't play a lot of linebacker in high school, and really kind of settled into that position as I said last year. Just got his final checkup last week, and got 100 percent clean bill of health and ready to go.
And just being around him, once again, like I said earlier, sometimes when you take something away from them they realize how important it is to them. And what it means to them.
So he's not only had a great work ethic in terms of the weight room and practicing and so forth, but the leadership that he's brought. And you see him being around the players has been, it's good to have him back, I know that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

End of FastScripts

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