Illini use receiver as punter to ease freshman’s workload

By Courtney Linehan

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Ron Zook took note when Eastern Illinois effectively executed an unusual punting game against Illinois in the season opener last weekend. The head coach was so impressed, he opted to try the strategy in his team’s next game.

Last Monday, Zook approached senior DaJaun Warren about plans to mix up Illinois’ punting game. Knowing heavy pressure rested on freshman punter Kyle Yelton, Zook wanted to throw in another option that would ease Yelton’s workload while giving the Illini an effective option for battling Rutgers.

“Coach Zook came to me in the weight room on Monday and asked me if I could kick,” Warren said. “I said I’d try; I kicked a little in high school. He wanted to do it rugby style, similar to Eastern.”

Warren studied film of Eastern’s punter and practiced kicking throughout the week.

In Saturday’s 33-0 Illinois loss, he punted five times, averaging 39 yards per punt. “He wanted the ball to roll a little bit,” Warren said. “A couple of times I didn’t get it to roll, I just kicked it in the air, but I just tried to do what coach asked me to.”

While Zook found little to smile about after the game, he did say the punting game effectively mixed things up.

Zook said Yelton remains Illinois’ primary punter, but said there is a chance Warren may kick again as the team looks ahead to a tough Big Ten schedule.

“It forces teams to prepare for it; it changes some of the things you can do and it was fairly productive for us,” Zook said. “Any time you’re backed up the way we were backed up and you’ve got a guy who’s a pretty good returner, you don’t want to give them a chance to get going.”

COUNTING ON CUMBERLAND

Illinois relied on its rushing game again Saturday, but did get seven passes completed during the game, including a first reception by freshman tight end Jeff Cumberland for 15 yards.

Illinois’ other freshman tight end, Michael Hoomanawanui, did not have any receptions, but assisted on a tackle.

LINDQUIST STEPPING UP

Former walk-on David Lindquist helped Illinois’ defense with three solo tackles and an assist. Lindquist, who has become a starter for the Illini, also recorded one breakup.

“As a defense, one thing you take pride in is you never quit, you always play hard,” Lindquist said. “A few times we got down on the goal line, but we still stopped them a couple times. We did our jobs. But as a defense, we know we need to produce more than we did.”