Leman with a spray-can mustache? If Miller has his say

By Daniel Johnson

Although Juice Williams has been the most celebrated Illini to this point in the season, linebacker Brit Miller joined the quarterback this week as the Big Ten Player of the Week. Miller’s nine-tackle, two-sack performance earned Illinois its first Defensive Player of the Week honors since Will Davis’ four-sack performance against Indiana last year.

Miller has preliminary plans for a self-portrait – he would ideally like to be placed among Illinois linebacker greats.

“I’m actually going to paint a stick figure of myself next to (J Leman’s All-American banner) up there,” Miller said. “It’s going to say non-All American, but it’d be cool … probably oil-based paint, that’s all I really got experience with. Spray can, maybe a little spray art, maybe a stencil if I can create one. It’d just be right next to J’s, I don’t really know the size yet.”

Are there any other amateur painting endeavors in Miller’s now-packed artistic docket?

“I don’t want to vandalize anything, but if there is something up there, I don’t know who did it,” Miller said.

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Miller hushes up, but elaborates when his Van Gogh-like intentions are questioned.

“J’s (All-American banner) will probably end up with some goggles on; you know some glasses or a mustache,” the senior said. “Because he’s never really been able to grow one. I saw him today, too, he didn’t have a mustache. I was like, ‘You’re married, dude, you can have a mustache, it’s legal, you are a man now.'”

Hard-hitting Hardeman

After starting the past two games, Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman is making headway in a secondary that has fluctuated considerably this year. Five safeties have already seen significant playing time for Illinois, but Hardeman may have a foothold on his position, recording 14 total tackles in the games he has played.

“Coming back, my first game against Penn State, I wasn’t really stable, I was a little rusty,” Hardeman said. “I think I had a good second half (against Penn State). Against Michigan I feel like I really played well … But I still haven’t had the big hit that I wanted, that people know I can do.”

The Jacksonville, Fla., native had a reputation as being a hard-hitting play maker, being named one of the top-10 players from his home state before attending Georgia Military College. Hardeman relished a chance to start at Illinois, but his knee injury slowed him early in the season and is something that he is still working through.

For the time being, the safety is drawing on his past.

“There’s someone I really look up to, and he actually graduated from the same high school I did, Brian Dawkins,” Hardeman said of the fellow Raines High School graduate, who donated $100,000 to renovate the school’s weight-lifting facility. “The last time I talked to him was my senior year in high school, I’ve been trying to get some contact numbers to get back in touch with him so he can show me the way … (the last time we spoke) he was basically telling me that school work comes first, then being an athlete, in turn.”

“Upgrading” the offensive line

Illinois offensive line coach Eric Wolford awards a distinct honor when a lineman reaches a certain point. The player is upgraded to a “sport edition” lineman, meaning the player can show athleticism that isn’t traditionally typical of the position. For example, last year now-senior Xavier Fulton, an athletic, former defensive tackle, was deemed sport edition by Wolford, while the more workman-like Martin O’Donnell, wasn’t.

And with the graduation of O’Donnell and Akim Millington, the offensive line features new faces. The question at hand was whether the players taking their place might be the desired sport edition.

“I think we’ve actually downgraded, a few models may have depreciated a bit like myself,” Fulton said joking. “We’re just getting a little banged up. We’ve been replacing a few parts.”

One of the more unexpected changes is the emergence of Jeff Allen at right tackle, after Ryan Palmer went down with a fractured foot. Fulton said he has been very impressed with the freshman’s play and that he has the potential to upgrade in the future.

“Jeff is more like, I think, he’d be the tricked-out AstroVan,” Fulton said. “He’s got some speed under the hood, it doesn’t look like it, but he’s got some speed and some agility. Jeff is one of those guys; he’s just a natural at the position.”