CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Chase Brown is looking the part of a No. 1 running back through the first three days of training camp, and he got to this point on an entirely vegan diet. The 5-foot-11, 200 pound redshirt sophomore tailback relied on beans, a lot of protein shakes and tofu scrambles to get stronger last year. But to maintain the grind of the Big Ten season, Brown decided to ditch the vegan option this summer and go back to eating meat. He still remembers the first meal.
“I got this big steak and it came out with flames and everything,” Brown said with a smile. “After eating that I was light-headed, I haven’t eaten meat in a year. That was the first big meal back.”
Chase’s twin brother Sydney is still going vegan, more than a year after the roommates started the life change together. Chase has already noticed a positive response with meat back in his diet.
“I think I got used to running on this flat energy there,” Chase said. “I acclimated to that and when I finally switched up, I just noticed it right away.”
Brown has bulked up to exactly where Bret Bielema wanted him to get to after playing his first full Big Ten season around 190 pounds in 2020.
“I remember I sat down with Coach B, and one of the first things (he said) was, ‘You know what, stay around 205 to 210,'” Brown said. “That’s all he needed to say to me.”
And the London, Ontario native is hoping to find even more success this year in Bielema’s run first offense. The preseason All-Big Ten honoree was ninth in the league last year in rushing but has a lot of competition in the backfield this season, including fifth year senior Mike Epstein, who decided to return to the team in June.
“We’re deep at running back, excited about that,” Illinois offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “Excited that Mike’s (Epstein) back with us, everything I’ve seen has been positive.”
“I’m really confident,” added Brown. “The O-lineman look great, the running back room, we look really good as well.”
Illinois coaches are believing in Brown so far as well, earning most of the first team reps in camp so far. The Illini open the season Aug. 28 with Nebraska coming to Champaign for a 12 p.m. game at Memorial Stadium.