Time behind bars gives Brent new outlook heading into Camp Rantoul

For the next few weeks at Camp Rantoul, the Illini football team will be told when to eat, when to sleep, and when to play football. But for Josh Brent, camp must feel like freedom.

Brent spent 60 days in jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanor DUI on June 2, and the experience had a profound effect on the junior defensive tackle.

“Eating, sleeping, watching TV, stepping outside and seeing the sun, things like that that you take for granted every day, once you get back, you realize how much they mean to you,” Brent said.

The 6-foot-2, 315-pound Brent was suited up as the Illini began training camp Thursday at Memorial Stadium. After practice, he was candid about his experience behind bars.

“There were actually some guys in there, truthfully, that helped me get through it, and they were very supportive. They sort of knew who I was and helped me through it,” Brent said. “You keep to yourself. You don’t bother nobody, nobody bothers you. With someone of my stature, not too many people wanted to start something.”

With Brent and sophomore standout Cory Liuget, defensive tackle was meant to be a strength this year.

But that was all put in jeopardy on Feb. 21, when Brent was arrested for driving under the influence. Labeled an NFL prospect by many experts, he saw his football career flash before his eyes.

“Once I realized the mistake I made, I realized my football career could be over, so I definitely started thinking things alternatively after football if it so happened that I wouldn’t be able to play again,” Brent said.

Head coach Ron Zook wouldn’t discuss game suspensions for Brent, but acknowledged the lineman’s character and hinted that he would be playing on Saturdays sooner rather than later.

“Josh knows he made a serious mistake, he paid the price and he learned from it, and he’s trying to do everything he needs to do to make up for it,” Zook said. “How much more does he have to do? There comes a point in time where you’re trying to help guys, you’re not trying to hurt them.

“He’s been unbelievable around the football team, he’s been unbelievable in workouts, let’s just see how it goes.”

Brent will be on display for fans the next two weeks along with the rest of the Illini football team as it moves from Memorial Stadium to Rantoul High School when summer classes come to an end next week.

Brent knows all eyes will be focused on him, and he can’t afford to step out of line.

“It’s the last and a new chance. I would say my luck’s starting to run out, and I realize that,” the soft-spoken lineman said. “That incarceration time gave me a lot of time to think and to grow up and become a man. It’s time for me to reconcile, move on, be a man about it and take on the consequences.”

Check out the Daily Illini Sports Wrap-up blog for daily notes as the Illini head off to Rantoul for training camp.