Illinois FB: Ron Zook for Coach of the Year?
This was probably the most unjust act made by an athletic director in years—but Zook took the situation in stride, saying, "The future of Gator football is very, very bright."
Ron couldn't have been more right. As everyone knows, the Gators won the National Championship last year.
In Champaign, Illinois, the Illini were coming off of three straight horrific seasons with Ron Turner at the helm. AD Ron Guenther knew it was time for a change.
Zook was hired two months later on December 7th, 2004. The new era of Illini football had just begun. Zook made his first big splash by recruiting Rashard Mendenhall, a blue chip half-back, out of Skokie, Illinois.
Zook didn't start his career off so well in Champaign, only going 9-20 in his first three years. This was a rebuilding process and just the beginning of something big.
The Illini were known for not finishing games in previous seasons and for this team to be successful they absolutely needed to.
What has Mendenhall done this year you ask-everything. So far in the 2007, Mendenhall, has run for ten touchdowns with over 722 total yards. Not to mention two touchdowns via recieving from the main squeeze in Champaign, Juice Williams.
Juice Williams is where Zook made everyone in central Illinois finally believe. Possibly the best option quarterback since the days of Vince Young in Texas. Yes, that might be over stating the obvious but when his days are done he will equal the ability of Troy Smith and/or Vince Young.
Washington D.C., the hot spot for recruiting? That's right no one recruits better out of the nations capital then the Illini. With players such as Vontae Davis, Arelious "Regis" Benn and Eddie McGee, this coaching staff has made a living there.
Ron Zook has a defensive mind and there are not many teams in the country that can run through linebackers such as J Leman, Brit Miller, Antonio Steele and Martez Wilson. Not to mention a young core at the defensive back position lead by Vontae Davis.
So far in the 2007 season, Ron Zook has given Illini fans exactly what they were asking for, a winning season. No longer are they the national joke of college football, but a force to be reckoned with.
Starting off the season at 5-1 with the only loss coming to a top offensive opponent in Missouri, who is currently ranked 11th. Penn St. and Wisconsin sure found out quickly that this Illini team wasn't going to lay down in the 4th quarter and allow themselves to be beaten.
This team finally knows how to finish off their opponents. The number 18 team in the country is ready to move up in the polls.
Losing is addictive and so is winning. Once those players got a taste of a few wins they didn't want to taste anything else but victory. The Illini play Iowa next week and Michigan the week following at home, which should be a win against a poor defensive team.
The biggest game of the year is on November 10th vs. Ohio St. Let's not get ahead of ourselves but this Illini team and Ron Zook could be looking at a share of the Big 10 title and possibly a BCS birth.
Ron Zook being fired in Gainsville was a blessing in disguise for both him and the Illini football program. No one in the nation deserves more acknowledgment then he does.
Not being able to sip the champagne last year with his former players in Florida might have left a sting in the gut of Zook.
However, no champagne will taste sweeter than that of winning a big bowl game in Champaign for the Illini.
Finally a chance for Zook to finish what he started.
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