Jackson practices with football team

By Courtney Linehan

When C.J. Jackson chose basketball over football, it surprised many of the football coaches who had been recruiting him.

Jackson was a standout tight end in high school, drawing a higher recruit ranking on the gridiron than on the hardwood and garnering scholarship offers from programs like LSU, Georgia, Auburn – and Florida.

On Tuesday, Illinois basketball’s 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward practiced with the football team, giving coach Ron Zook a second shot at the player he’d recruited while still with the Gators.

“He’s a big guy, an athletic guy who is going to try to see if he wants to play this game,” Zook said after practice Tuesday. “He’s an athletic guy, so he wants to see if he can do it.”

Jackson didn’t participate much on his first day back in pads in more than two years. He caught a few passes, but mostly focused on absorbing the Illini’s offense.

Sophomore tight end Michael Hoomanawanui said Jackson’s size and athleticism could offer good depth to the sparse position, but it will take a while for him to get back into a football mindset.

“He’s a little rusty, first day back in a couple years I guess, but he’ll be all right,” Hoomanawanui said.

“If you look at his size and athleticism, obviously from playing basketball, he can transfer some of that to the football field,” Hoomanawanui said.

Jackson’s transition to football began his freshman season, when offensive coordinator Mike Locksley would joke at training tables about playing both sports. Jackson approached Zook about working out with the football team last week, and the two met on Sunday to work out the details.

For the time being, Jackson is a walk-on for football and remains a scholarship member of the basketball team. No decision has been made about whether he will play both sports, stick with just basketball, or focus solely on football.

“We’re just trying to evaluate him to see if he can help our ball club,” Locksley said. “Athletically, obviously to play Division I basketball we feel he has the ability. Now it’s a matter of whether he can pick up what we do on offense, whether he’s got the toughness to play that position.”

Virginia Tech tragedy hits home for Zook

Zook opened his press conference Tuesday not with talk of Illinois’ final days of spring football, but by expressing his concern for the shooting victims at Virginia Tech.

Zook was the defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech in 1987 and remains close with Frank Beamer, who was in his first year as the Hokies’ head coach back then.

“I can’t imagine something like that. It puts things into perspective,” Zook said. “It kind of takes your wind away. It came on TV and I couldn’t get away from it yesterday.”

Reda won’t have groin surgery

Kicker Jason Reda has not kicked since the first day of spring ball while nursing a pulled groin muscle. Reda recently returned from Philadelphia, where he met with the same doctor who performed groin surgery on Brian Randle. The staff decided that Reda will not have surgery at this time. Zook said they could decide as late as May to perform the operation, and Reda would still be back in time for the season opener against Missouri on Sept. 1.