Notes: Football doesn’t take a break

By Courtney Linehan

Despite the arrival of defensively minded head coach Ron Zook, Illinois football continued to struggle to rebuild its defense in the 2005 season.

That may have been a factor as defensive coordinator Mike Mallory left the Illinois program.

The Champaign News-Gazette reported this week that Mallory and Zook had decided it was time to take Illinois’ defense in a different direction.

Both Zook and Mallory were out of the office this week and were not available for comment.

Mallory’s father, Bill Mallory, coached Zook during his college career at Miami of Ohio. Mallory’s brother, Kurt, is Illinois’ secondary coach.

Mike Mallory started his time at Illinois as the team’s secondary/safeties coach. He was hired in 2001 by former Illinois head coach Ron Turner. He took over as defensive coordinator in 2004, Turner’s last season at Illinois.

JUCO players sign with Illini

Illinois football got a small boost during Junior College Signing Day on Dec. 21, when the Illini signed a pair of defensive players to join the squad for the 2006 season.

Defensive backs Justin Sanders and Antonio Steele will be on campus this semester and will be on Zuppke Field next fall.

Sanders is a 6-foot, 205-pounder from Pearl, Miss. He was named a first-team all-state selection while at Northeast Mississippi Community College. He recorded 35 tackles, one interception and forced five fumbles in leading his team to a 7-2 record in the 2005 season.

Steele hails from Cleveland, Ohio, and played at Long Beach City College. The 210-pound back was rated by Rivals.com as one of the top-100 junior college prospects. He led his junior college team in tackles last season, with 85 stops, six tackles for loss and two sacks.

Mayday for Kleckner

Illinois defensive back Kyle Kleckner earned a unique honor when ESPN college football analyst Mark May listed the senior safety on his 2005 All-Mayday Team.

Kleckner, known for his tough attitude and scrappy play, had one of his most painful games in his first career start against Iowa this fall. In the first half of that game, Kleckner’s helmet was ripped off during a play and he landed on the ground. A teammate accidentally stepped on Kleckner’s face, resulting in the Downers Grove-native getting 30 stitches in his face during halftime.

He later returned to the game and recorded four tackles.

The only other Big Ten player to make the team was Iowa wide receiver Ed Hinkel.

Freshmen honored

Three Illini earned recognition as some of the best in their class when Sporting News announced its freshman All-American and All-Conference teams.

Linebacker Remond Willis and offensive lineman Ryan McDonald earned spots on the Freshman All-Big Ten team, while Derek Walker and Willis got honorable mentions as freshmen All-Americans.

Twice-recognized Willis started just five games, but was the team’s second-most active linebacker, participating in 523 plays. He had 54 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble.

McDonald started all 11 games, playing right tackle for the first 10 and moving to left tackle for the final game.

Walker started at defensive end throughout the season, where he recorded 26 tackles.