|Cecil Brimmage ran wild on
Hanover, racking up 341 yards on 28 carries.
Illinois College athletics photo
Coaches seem to have a pretty good idea of that watershed moment when his team seems to start believing all the things he’s been telling them.
For Illinois College coach Garrett Campbell, it was the Blueboys’ 2010 game against perennial Midwest Conference favorite St. Norbert. Illinois College beat the Green Knights on the road and followed it up with a victory against a tough Ripon team.
The Blueboys found themselves alone in first place with two games left. Illinois College, though, lost those two games and some may have thought it was blip on the Division III radar in a conference long dominated by St. Norbert, then Monmouth.
After last week’s 51-28 victory over Hanover, Illinois College seems ready to follow up 2010’s watershed and last year’s playoff appearance.
“We have 96 returning players from last year’s team so we have a lot of experience,” Campbell said. “I coached last year’s seniors the entire time I was here but I didn’t recruit them. This year’s seniors are the first group I recruited. They knew where the program was when I recruited them and where it is now and they know the expectations around here have changed.”
Illinois College will have the target on its back when it enters Midwest Conference play this week at Grinnell. Campbell said while that kind of attention is a sign of the growth of the program, he said his players can’t live on the accomplishments of last season, where the Blueboys finished second in the MWC and reached the playoffs.
“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best,” Campbell said, leading Illinois College to a 9-2 record in 2011. “We know what people are saying that it might have been a fluke. Last year is over so who cares. We can only control what’s in front of us today. I know that’s a little coach speak, but it’s true.”
Illinois College looks like it will have plenty of offense to match just about any opponent it faces. Sophomore quarterback Michael Bates threw for more than 3,000 yards as a freshman a year ago. But against Hanover, it was the running game that got all of the attention.
Cecil Brimmage, who rushed for more than 100 yards per game a year ago, ripped the Hanover defense for a school-record 341 yards on 28 carries, including three touchdowns. Bates rushed for 73 more yards on 14 carries without a carry for loss. Brimmage’s effort shattered a 29-year-old rushing record of 302 by Phil Pohlman.
Despite such gaudy numbers in the first game, Campbell said he expects his defense to play a big role in Illinois College’s success.
“I really like what we have on defense,” Campbell said. “Yes, if our production matches our potential on offense, we can score a lot of points, too, but I do like the athletes we have on defense. We’re going to be balanced in that way. I don’t care if we win a game 3-0 or 53-50. What we need to do is win and I think we are gearing our team to do just that. If the offense is down, then we’ll need the defense to play better that game. If the defense is down, we’ll need the offense to play better that game. We’re a team and we want to win.”
The challenge facing Illinois College will be facing down its old foe Monmouth. The Fighting Scots continued to be a torn in the side of the Blueboys, beating Illinois College soundly in what was a memorable season.
“I told our team that one loss doesn’t make you a loser, just like one win doesn’t make you a winner,” Campbell said in discussing the Monmouth loss. “It’s about what you do consistently over time. That’s what we are building here. We had a young quarterback who threw five interceptions and we were in that game for a long time.”
Campbell said there is an excitement in the air in Jacksonville, Ill., that this team could be one of the best in the history of Illinois College.
“Actually, there was a lot of excitement last year,” Campbell said. “The players know that the competition just to play on this team will be fierce. We have Cecil back but we think our No. 2 and No. 3 guys are just a shade below him and they are really pushing him in practice.”
Campbell said that kind of competition pushes everyone to excel to succeed and that has helped change the football culture at Illinois College.
“There’s a different feeling here,” Campbell said. “We know we are a good football team. Before, we thought we were a good football team.”
Game of the Week
No. 14 Redlands at No. 13 North Central, 8 p.m.: After a 21-17 loss to Wisconsin-La Crosse, North Central is in danger of starting the season 0-2. The Cardinals lost to Redlands 35-29 on a touchdown in the final minute last year. The win helped the Bulldogs to an 8-2 record and a playoff berth in 2011. The motivation is clearly on the side of North Central. Redlands also has the burden of the trip to Naperville, Ill., from California. The question is: Can North Central actually take use these advantages to register its first win of the season?