Column: Straight from the heart

By Darren Bailey

Through a combination of miscommunication and a misguided assumption on my part (Remember kids, what happens when you assume), I learned only a half an hour before my deadline that I had another column due today.

To compound the issue, I received this information via a phone call while I was driving on Interstate 57 just north of Mt. Vernon, Ill (Over two hours away from Champaign). For those aware readers, yes, I am from the Deep South of Illinois. It’s OK – I’ll survive.

But now, back to the story.

So here I am driving up 57, wondering, “What am I going to preach to my loyal followers today?” I had laid out some preliminary plans a couple of weeks earlier, but they were by no means a well-lit path to the Temple of Column Greatness. And then it struck me. Just talk from the heart. So here comes a stream of consciousness from my brain to your eyes – but straight from the heart.

I’m an Illini fan. There’s no hiding it. I know I’m supposed to sit silently in the press box, showing no emotion, feeling no excitement and accepting no Biaggi’s, but I just can’t help it. It absolutely kills me.

It kills me to have to sit in my seat, solemn as a granite statue, when Jason Davis makes a tremendous catch and nearly scores his first touchdown of the season against Wisconsin.

It kills me to watch Pierre Thomas struggle, fight and never give up during his never-ending quest to win success for the Illini, without giving so much as a “way to go, Pierre!”

It kills me to see J Leman and Kevin Mitchell give up their body and souls for the Orange and Blue, and then have to hide the goose bumps on my arm.

It kills me to endure losing seasons and a general feeling of doom which has surrounded this program.

But then I pick up my tall glass of Orange Kool-Aid and I’m back to normal. My elixir of life revitalizes my inner Illini, and I’m ready to roll.

Now, however, I have something else to aid me in my fight against Illini cynicism. Ron Zook. It’s impossible to spend more than a few minutes around the Illini head coach without believing every word he says. Even after one of the lowest lows of the season, the Purdue loss, that orange flame of hope inside me erupted when he said, “We’re not that far away.” And this was after I spent 10 weeks watching his squad get thrashed and bashed… if only in the second halves.

Ron Zook will turn around this program. His intensity, his drive, his love for the game, his desire and his vision of what Illinois football can be will lead him to success. It’s time to move on from the days of mediocrity, to the days of superiority. Ron Zook has.

Success can already be seen off the field, where prospects that would have been not only crossed-off but never placed on the recruiting list under former staffs, are now lining up just to take visits to this fine University. You’ve read the names – Williams, James, Wilkins, Hoomanawanui, Yelton – the future looks good. Oh, and by the way, if you like watching SEC ball, then get ready to run… because I can promise you, speed is on the way.

But the victories will come not just from the newcomers, but from the guys on campus, too. Don’t forget about these players who, though they haven’t yet tasted success, are battle-tested and, like me, bleed the Orange and Blue.

It’s with this passion, dedication and insistence on success that will take Illinois to the level that those involved know it can reach.

Darren Bailey is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected] illini.com.