CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — At any given moment during training camp, there’s a good chance you’ll find Alex Pihlstrom holding a football. The Illinois senior offensive lineman is doing his best to get as comfortable as possible with the ball in his hands, as he competes to win the starting center job in camp.

“I saw a clip from the spring game and you could hear Coach (Bart) Miller say, ‘Snap!’ four or five times,” Pihlstrom said. “We spent this whole May snapping together, being comfortable with the ball, setting it down, making sure my feet are right every single time. I haven’t gotten yelled at that bad again.”

The sixth year senior is looking to replace Doug Kramer, the primary center for the Illini since 2017, who is now with the Bears. No one could have predicted this path for Pihlstrom, who walked on to the team in 2017 as a 235-pound tight end. Now 65 pounds later, the 6-foot-6 Glen Ellyn native is ithe third most experienced guy on an O-Line that is replacing four starters from last season’s team that finished 5-7.

“I took the AP course in just recognizing defenses quick and just knowing what everybody has to do,” Pihlstrom said about learning center on the fly. “And just knowing the little things, I think that’s important for me. Kind of the cheat sheet if I could say. Just things that work, or doesn’t work, and what I feel good with.”

“It’s an awesome competition we have going on, everyone’s truly wanting to get better,” Illinois super senior offensive lineman Alex Palczewski said. “Everyone’s willing. It’s just a love this group so much.”

Pihlstrom is new to center but has seven starts with the Illini, five last season and two more in the 2020 COVID-19 shortened season. On top of learning a spot, Pihlstrom is also working to find his voice as a leader as well, a key element to playing center.

“I haven’t been used to that since my senior year in high school,” he said. “I came on as a walk-on tight end, I was very scared. I didn’t think I would ever be in this position. It’s just getting comfortable with it, and getting comfortable every single day.”

With less than a month until the first game against Wyoming on Aug. 27, the ball is literally in Pihlstrom’s court as he looks to assume both leadership and snapping duties to jump start an Illini offense under first year coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.