CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Two weeks from Saturday the Illini will take the field for their first game of the season, but first they needed a warm up. They did just that in front of fans in Memorial Stadium for Fan Appreciation Day.
The Illini offense won the “scrimmage” on paper, putting up big play after big play. It was also evident that transfer quarterback AJ Bush is in the lead for the starting QB job. Head coach Lovie Smith had some glowing words about him after practice.
“I like that AJ Bush has been doing throughout. Seemed like the last week or so he’s really kind of taken control a little bit,” he said. “Positive things from the offense so good drives today. Defensively, whenever you can score a defensive touchdown it’s always a big thing. So this is great video for us to evaluate the guys. The depth chart will start meaning a little bit now that we’ve really had a chance to evaluate our players.”
Saturday was also Fan Appreciation Day, after all, it was the last time the public will get a chance to see the Illini before their fist game.
“It’s always special, of course. A lot of the people and the fans are family. They want to see their sons and how much they progressed since they let them go off,” Smith added. “But when someone’s in the stands pulling for you, that should bring out the best in you.”
And it definitely brought out the best in the offense, who made a number of big plays in front of the crowd.
“We expect a lot of those, especially with the new offense,” wide receiver Ricky Smalling said. “The way we’re moving the ball lately, I think we’re going to have a very good season.”
For wide receiver and Champaign native Dominic Stampley, interacting with fans was a blast from the past.
“I’m a story myself, being from here, so just seeing all the kids from around here knowing that I was once that is good to see,” Stampley said. “They look up to me, and not only me but the other players on the team.”
The Illini will have Sunday off before returning for their last week of fall camp. They open their season at home against Kent State September 1st.