September 4, 2012

Blueboys have target on their back

More news about: Illinois College
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?

Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.
2003-04 columnist: John Regenfuss

Previous Columns

November 17, 2015
Doing their homework on the fly
Even for programs with deep playoff histories, each new tournament brings new excitement and...
November 10, 2015
New look, same rivalry
Rookie head coaches will be on both sidelines, but the opponents in the Midwest Conference champions...
November 3, 2015
Lakeland is ready to turn the corner
The Muskies lost their last head coach, who left to coordinate the offense at Benedictine. This...
October 27, 2015
Monmouth is on the right track
Since a heartbreaking loss and a heart-stopping comeback win, the Fighting Scots have been cruising....
October 20, 2015
Franklin is in a familiar position
If ever there were a year to break the Grizzlies' streak of HCAC dominance, many thought this would...
October 13, 2015
Wheaton is winning with balance
The Thunder don't have any player with eye-popping statistics on either side of the ball. What the...
October 5, 2015
St. Norbert doing more with less
The Green Knights don't beat up on each other much during the week. They save that energy for...
September 29, 2015
Warriors are far from satisfied with wins
Wisconsin Lutheran hopes to again find its groove under longtime head coach Dennis Miller. The...
September 22, 2015
Engineering a climb up the HCAC mountain
Rose-Hulman is off to another fast start, but the Fightin' Engineers know that they have to get past...
September 15, 2015
The focus, like the name, stays the same at North Central
Jeff Thorne has taken the reins of the program from his father, John, but the Cardinals remain...
September 8, 2015
Illinois College gives reins to a man named Brady
It's a tough act to follow, playing after the best quarterback in school history, but Brady Huber is...
August 31, 2015
10 games to watch for 2015
Sometimes the same game every year deserves to be in the 10 games to watch. But there are always...
November 18, 2014
Big hills to climb
Benedictine and Macalester each face tall orders on Saturday, as they travel to Wheaton and...
November 11, 2014
IC's seniors get one more shot
Michael Bates and the Illinois College Blueboys went to the playoffs as freshmen. On Saturday...
November 4, 2014
Benedictine makes mess of NACC
You can thank the Benedictine Eaglesand their 33-6 thrashing of defending NACC champion Concordia...
 • More Division III football news releases

Other Columnists