Zook not horsing around

Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic carries the ball in the third quarter of the game versus Wisconsin on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Brasic was Illinois´ top rusher for the game with 116 yards on 16 carries. Peter Hoffman

Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic carries the ball in the third quarter of the game versus Wisconsin on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Brasic was Illinois´ top rusher for the game with 116 yards on 16 carries. Peter Hoffman

By Courtney Linehan

When Illinois football heads to the Horseshoe tomorrow to take on Ohio State, it will be a sort-of homecoming for head coach Ron Zook.

Zook is a native of Loudonville, Ohio, less than 90 miles from downtown Columbus. The proximity will draw a crowd of family and friends, some wearing replicas of Zook’s high school jersey.

“I appreciate the support, obviously. I’m very fortunate to grow up where I did, with great people, so that’s an honor,” Zook said. “Still, it’s a little embarrassing, since I didn’t do anything to deserve the honor.”

The coach says he won’t let the reunion remove his thoughts from the game. Zook attended Miami of Ohio and coached at Ohio State, but his emphasis, he says, is on the goals his Illini will be trying to accomplish.

“I’ve been around enough places, returned to enough schools where I’ve coached before, so I’m not worried about that stuff,” Zook said. “We’re just going to go out there and do the best we can.”

Among those goals is always to win back the Illibuck, a wooden turtle kept by the winner of the Illinois-Ohio State game. Illinois last surrendered the Illibuck in 2002, when the Buckeyes topped the Illini in overtime to seal a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl for the national title.

The teams have not met in two seasons, but Illinois is ready for a tough game. Zook said the Illini continue to improve, after setting several personal, season and school records against Wisconsin last weekend. But the game will still be tough for the youngest team in the nation.

“Obviously they’re a very good football team, so it’s a great challenge, a great opportunity,” Zook said.

Feeling Fine

Illinois kicker Jason Reda was suffering hip pain last weekend, when he missed two field goal attempts. But Zook said the sophomore, whose 21 career field goals rank eighth on the Illini all-time list, will be in playing shape for Saturday’s matchup.

Watch Out

Illini players are approaching several more record marks. Junior Pierre Thomas is 123 kickoff return yards short of Illinois’ school career record. Kyle Hudson, a wide receiver from Mattoon, Ill., is 138 yards shy of breaking Brandon Lloyd’s freshman receiving record. And quarterback Tim Brasic is 158 yards from Illinois’ career rushing record.