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July 28, 2011

Ron Zook


THE MODERATOR: Our first coach today is Illinois Ron Zook. We will invite Coach Zook to make an opening statement and then we will take questions.
COACH ZOOK: Thank you.
I guess I get to start it off. Obviously this is the time of year that everyone's awfully excited and looking forward to the anticipation of the season.
I'm probably a little bit more excited to get back to work. I endured both my daughters getting married this summer. I learned how to take orders and stay out of the way. I also learned a new meaning of organized chaos. So I'm excited to getting back to work, looking forward to the season, looking forward to what's ahead for us.
I think we've got a lot of things at the University of Illinois to be excited about. First of all, coming off a positive bowl experience. I think our guys have maintained that same attitude from the day we got back in January. In the off-season, they've continued to improve and do the things we kind of set in place last year.
We have only one new coach, one turnover in our coaching staff. Brought in a guy from the NFL that's done just a marvelous job with our players. We're to the point in time going into the second year of both a new offense and defense where players know the coaches and coaches know the players.
I think obviously you've heard me say this many times, coaches is putting players in positions where they can be successful. Can't say enough about the attitude of our team, the way they've worked, the leadership that's come forth.
Obviously we're excited about our quarterback. I think even though he is only a sophomore, he's a young man that's continued to improve not only on the field, but I can't tell you the way he leads off the field. He's unbelievable. It's been fun to watch. He's a guy that obviously, as I said, you have to remember he's just a redshirt sophomore, but a guy that's continued to improve.
If you look at the first half of the season, he threw seven interceptions, the second half the season one interception. He learned to take care of the football and tried hard to do the things our coaches put in place for him to do.
We have a chance to run the football well. We have some holes to fill as everyone does. I think that's the exciting thing about a new season. It gives guys an opportunity, gives guys a chance to step up and kind of show what they can do.
We're excited about where we are. We're looking forward to the start of the season. We start our players' report next Wednesday. A week from today is our first practice. We're excited to get going.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll take questions.

Q. Coach, I'm interested from an outsider's perspective about what happened with Ohio State. When you're watching that do you cringe because it's bad for the conference or does part of you think it's an opportunity for us to make some ground on Ohio State which has been dominating the conference?
COACH ZOOK: First of all, I think you cringe because unfortunately it's something out there in college football, something we just had a long talk with the commissioner, which I think is very important.
If you look at the popularity of the college football, it's unprecedented. There's so much exposure, so much excitement. Everybody is looking. It's obviously very, very important that everybody, not only the Big Ten Conference, but everybody in college football does everything they can do to protect the game and obviously respect the game, for not only where it's going, but where it's come from.
You hate to see those things happen. Obviously it's lessons that we as all coaches have to look at, maybe rethink, obviously help your players in education, learning what's right and what's wrong from that standpoint as well.

Q. Could you talk about the impact of a high-energy newcomer like Russell Wilson at Wisconsin?
COACH ZOOK: Anytime you have a high-profile player in there, it creates excitement. It creates stories for y'all. That once again raises the level of interest in the game.
But I think right now I'm more concerned about the University of Illinois and maintaining the things that we've started. I think, once again, it's up to us as a coaching staff to build on those things.
But I think anytime you have any positive things that happen in the conference, I think it's great for the conference.

Q. All the new coaches in the league this year, how can you use that to your advantage this year?
COACH ZOOK: Well, it's hard to believe going into my seventh year and I'm actually third in seniority. Actually kind of mind-boggling.
Once again, outside of a new offense and defense that your team have to prepare for, usually when you're in a league for a while, you keep books on those teams, you're able to go back so many years that that staff has been there, look at the things they've done on offense, defense, special teams. Maybe a little bit of a disadvantage is when you have a new staff, there's going to be a lot of new things. In the course of a football game, your players have to react to new things.
The teams that you're the most familiar with, usually you're able to have the best plans for. Maybe be looking for some expectations or expecting some things that may happen. When you have new staffs, new offenses and defenses, there's a lot of new things that are hard to prepare for.

Q. I want to ask about divisional play. You were in this at Florida, probably one of the few coaches that dealt with that. What does it mean for those five division games you have to play out of the eight conference games, just the advent of the championship game? Is that going to bring some excitement to the conference where they've been dark that weekend before?
COACH ZOOK: I think the whole thing is exciting for the league, exciting for all the fans. Right now used to be one of your primary goals was to win the Big Ten Conference. If you win, you're going to have an opportunity to play for it all. That's the way the conference is.
Now with the championship game, obviously your first goal is to get to the championship game. You cannot win the Big Ten Conference unless you get to the championship game and obviously win the championship game. Those things, it's going to create more excitement.
It's something that, as you mentioned, I played in the first championship game when we played Alabama in Birmingham, which is supposed to be a neutral site, but I think this is going to be a more neutral site playing in Indianapolis. I think there's going to be more interest across the country and it will make it more interesting.

Q. Can you give us an idea how you feel your offensive line is going to shape up this year.
COACH ZOOK: We feel very, very good about our offensive line. We have one tackle spot, Corey Lewis is a guy that didn't go through spring, coming off of a knee surgery. Jeff Allen is here with us. Graham Pocic, our starting center, Jack Cornell, a senior, that played an awful lot of football. We got three guys that we feel are really solid players that can help us win.
I think, once again, our offensive line has a chance to be our strength. Hugh Thornton, third year as a starter, a lot of experience there. A lot of guys, they know what to do.
Obviously, I think in this conference, as in any conference, you have to be able to run the football. It's something that our offensive coaches have done a great job in implementing a system that allows us with our quarterback to not only be able to run the football, but get him on the move, move the pocket, so you feel very good about where we are offensive line-wise right now.

Q. Ron, what are some of your thoughts on the schedule, different with your schedule this year?
COACH ZOOK: We're excited about our schedule. Anytime you play eight home games, this is an opportunity for us -- we play the first five games at home. The Big Ten games that we have at home, we play Ohio State at home, Northwestern at home, Michigan at home, we play Wisconsin at home. You like that home schedule. We go to Indiana and Purdue, which are close trips. Go to Penn State. For some reason, our guys love to go there and play. We end it up at Minnesota.
In terms of the way the schedule is with all four non-conference games being at home, it's exciting. Looking forward to being able to stay at home.

Q. Were you hoping that any of your three premiere big-name guys would have returned for their senior season this year?
COACH ZOOK: Absolutely. I think that's the thing about college football. I can remember when Herschel Walker came out, kinda hit me, you go to college to learn how to make money. This is an opportunity for these guys to go out. Sure, we'd love to have them back. With Corey, if he would have come back, maybe had an opportunity to be a top-five pick. No question, Martez Wilson, both of those guys, their football is in front of them. We texted back and forth this morning. They're excited about getting started.
Michael had a great year for us. It's an opportunity for him to go on and play in the National Football League. These are dreams these guys have had.
When they made the rule you could come out after the third year, that's something a lot of these guys, if it's right, aspire to do. I didn't try to talk any of the three out of it. I gave them the pros and cons particularly with the things that were looming in the NFL. I thought it was important the work they were going to miss, which they've missed, was going to be important.
Once again, it's decisions they've made. I've stayed very, very close with them. Martez and Corey, we text a couple times a week. They're excited about the opportunity they have right now.

Q. The offense set quite a few school records last season. Can you talk about the impact that Paul Petrino and the rest of that offensive staff had?
COACH ZOOK: Coach Petrino being the offensive coordinator, coaching receivers, is putting players in places they can be successful. That's the thing that's exciting about coming back the second year. Everybody knows everybody. But they more importantly know the things they do the best. Our offense got better as the season progressed. As you said, the last half the season, we did a pretty good job on offense. There's no reason to think that we're not going to pick up right where we left off.
We had great work. Thought we had a probably the most physical spring practice I've ever been around in terms of both sides of the football, getting after each other. We were fortunate enough to get out of there without any major injuries.
So that's kind of the excitement. Once again, it's our job as a coaching staff to keep that positive excitement going, feeling going, and continue to improve.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Zook.
COACH ZOOK: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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