Leman leads in tackles for Fighting Illini

Wide-receiver James Bailey (6) is tackled by linebacker J Leman (47) in the third quarter of the homecoming game against Indiana University Saturday. Indiana won 34-32. Beck Diefenbach The Daily Illini

Wide-receiver James Bailey (6) is tackled by linebacker J Leman (47) in the third quarter of the homecoming game against Indiana University Saturday. Indiana won 34-32. Beck Diefenbach The Daily Illini

By Jason Grodsky

Through six games, junior linebacker J Leman leads the Illini in tackles with 65 and ranks second overall in the Big Ten in tackles with 10.8 tackles per game. He has posted five straight games of 10-plus tackles, including a 10-tackle performance last weekend against Indiana.

Following Illinois football practice on Tuesday, Leman took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with the Daily Illini about Illinois’ upcoming game against Ohio, his switch to middle linebacker this season and his academic success.

Question: What’s the attitude of the team in the locker room and on the practice field after the loss to Indiana?

Answer: We’re not thinking about last week’s game anymore. We’re focused on Ohio.

Q: How big do you feel this weekend’s game against Ohio is in terms of getting the fans back on your side?

A: It’s as big as any other game. It’s important any time you get a loss you have to come back and get a win.

Q: You moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker this season. How has that change affected you?

A: I like it more. In high school I played in the middle and it feels more natural in the middle.

Q: Do you feel the move is the reason you’re ranking among the best in the Big Ten and in the country in tackles?

A: Maybe a little, but the D-line has been playing great and the guys playing beside me, Steele and Miller, are great players. I’m just the beneficiary of what they are doing.

Q: What’s the main difference between playing inside rather than outside at the linebacker position?

A: Inside it’s more about reading guards and the intentions of the running back, where outside you deal more with receivers and skill players. I would say the middle are the less athletic guys and the outside guys are a little more athletic.

Q: You list Dana Howard as your Fighting Illini hero. What sort of similarities do you see in your game that you saw in Dana’s when he played?

A: Nothing quite yet, he’s pretty immortal around here so I don’t want to compare myself to him just yet. But we both play the same position, so that is one similarity.

Q: What part of his game would you say you try to incorporate into yours?

A: His relentless effort. He was relentless in his pursuit of the football, and every play I try to play the same way. I never give up on any play and I believe I can make every play out on the field.

Q: You’ve already earned your Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communication in just 3 « years of school. What does that mean to you?

A: It means a lot to me. You always hear you’re a student first and an athlete second and to tell you the truth I don’t know if I’ve always seen it that way. Sometimes football came before school for me, but overall school’s been very important to me. I take great pride in what I’ve been able to do in the classroom.

Q: What’s next on your agenda for your academic career?

A: I’m in the grad school program in the Human Resource Education (HRE) department. I have some great professors there and I feel that will be a great stepping stone for what I want to do later on in life.

Q: What are you planning to do with your degrees following college?

A: I want to work with people. I want to be in an environment where I can use my social skills and not only train people but be around and work with people. that love to be together.