Illini senior linebacker Brit Miller talks Rantoul, the Big Ten and belly flops



By Daniel Johnson

After being pegged as a reformed happy-go-lucky player by Ron Zook, the head coach anticipates senior linebacker Brit Miller as a more matured and aware leader this year.

The senior from Decatur, Ill., will be entering his final season as an Illinois player, a season in which all of Zook’s first four-year class will have their chance to settle their legacies as Illini.

The Daily Illini spoke with Miller on Friday at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

Daily Illini: Since the Rose Bowl, really, you’ve talked about how this class has to cement its reputation. It’s, for obvious reasons, very important; can you elaborate some on why?

Brit Miller: “We’re coach Zook’s first class that will graduate with him, he’ll be our only college coach. You don’t want to be that guy – the teams that have been on top of their game for a long time … they don’t talk about ‘if we’re going to win this year’ they talk about, ‘let’s not be the team that doesn’t win the Big Ten championship.’ We don’t want to be that class that’s remembered for a 6-6 year. Yeah, I’ve been through the 2-10 seasons and those are rough, but, there’s no way I’m going back (to a season like that.) Coach Zook won’t let us, and I’m confident in that.

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DI: You’ve said that this has been one of your best offseasons, what has made it that way?

BM: We played ‘The Biggest Loser,’ man, that’s what we did. We had guys losing weight, we had guys getting stronger, and they took it seriously. There were a lot of times in the offseason, it gets a little mundane. You got 10 weeks of straight running and lifting and all in a row. There is no break in it, but at the same time, we enjoyed it, we took every challenge that (strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez) put at us and we tore it up.

DI: Was there a winner?

BM: Biggest loser? This guy right here, dude, the biggest loser. Heck yeah, I was like, the first to get to 240 (pounds,) so was kind of the race among (me, Rahkeem Smith, Sam Carson to 240 pounds.) Every day, there were weigh-in sessions, fighting weight. It kept the summer fun. We’d always try to get each other to go out to eat and nobody would do it. They’d be like, ‘Aw, I’m not going out to eat with you.’ And there were guys trying to exercise at times when nobody would be in there.

DI: Last year at media days, J Leman, Martin O’Donnell and Chris Norwell were here, and they were integral leaders of the team. Do you see yourself, Ryan McDonald and Juice Williams being selected to come to this as Coach Zook’s signal that he sees the three of you as leaders?

BM: I think myself, Juice and Ryan, those are the guys. On the defense, we’re a little young. I’m vocal out there and for some reason, people listen to me – I have no idea why. If you’re going to, good, but I’m sorry about the outcome. Juice, he’s going to lead by example. Ryan, if somebody is an aerospace engineer, I’m going to listen to him. You can say, ‘It’s not rocket science,’ but if it is, he knows it too. It’s a little bit of a turnaround, J is a guy who led by example, but J and Martin are both married now. I’m not getting married just because I’m at (Big Ten Media Days.)

DI: How do you feel about Camp Rantoul being extended to a third week and just getting back there in general?

BM: Ran-tucky? The third week of Rantoul, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m like, ‘As long as we can go do the belly flop competition, I think I’ll be satisfied.’ I’m looking to repeat my title.

DI: Can you give an abridged history of the belly flop competition?

BM: Well, the first year, I went straight belly flop. Won it, because it was stellar. Last year, I did a half-gainer layout belly flop. This year, I got something planned, something special planned. It’s going to be nice. It’s going to be one, if done correctly, my back won’t even get wet. Just hit the water and stay on the top.

DI: Who is your competition for the belt?

BM: Last year, it was actually Antonio Steele. He took a belly flop competition from me in Decatur, my hometown. I was distraught for at least two or three minutes. He did a great job, a little guy like that throwing it out there, but I’ve been working on technique, that’s all I can do, I guess.

DI: Who are you picks for offensive or defensive preseason Big Ten Player of the Year?

BM: There’s a lot of talent here. (Marcus) Thigpen (of Indiana) is just so fast. (Travis) Beckum (of Wisconsin,) to me, he’s a baller, the guy is so tough to guard. These are the top of the league here. We expect (James) Laurinaitis (of Ohio State) to do well. He’ll be a guy that a lot of attention is place on, but he deserves it.