Rocky road has preceded LeShoure’s stepping up for Illinois football

Mikel LeShoure has taken a rocky path as an Illini.

During his freshman year, LeShoure’s season ended when he was punched by a teammate following Illinois’ win against Iowa.

LeShoure had his jaw wired shut, causing him to shed about 15 pounds, and he came into the 2009 season in prime shape.

But his off-field issues didn’t stop after the fight.

After being one of the only bright spots in the Illinois’ opening-day loss to Missouri, LeShoure was suspended for the Illini’s only win of the season against Illinois State.

But after five straight Illini losses, LeShoure looks regain the status of “lone bright spot.”

He has averaged 7.4 yards per carry over the last three games and had the best rushing day of his career against Purdue, running for 122 yards, including a 65-yard run to set up Illinois’ first touchdown.

And head coach Ron Zook said LeShoure is doing well off the field, too.

“He seems to be doing fine,” Zook said. “I talk about it every day, Reggie (Mitchell) talks about it three or four times a day, and he understands the importance that he is to this football team, to himself and to his family, and we’re pleased and happy with the way he’s handled himself off the field.”

LeShoure seems to be taking the lead in the running back competition after seemingly starting the season behind teammates Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford.

The only question for Ford now seems to be if he can handle the wear and tear of a Big Ten season for an every-down back, which he strives to be.

“What you think about an every-down back is they can protect, they can run and they can catch,” he said.

While LeShoure appears to fulfill all of those categories, ankle injuries have hampered the Champaign native’s season, and questions about his durability have surfaced.

Zook isn’t sure LeShoure is healthy enough just yet to play every snap.

“We’ll find out, he’s a 225-pound guy,” Zook said. “He’s a big physical guy, he doesn’t show a lot of signs of being beat up (Monday). Once again, he’s probably emerging as the leader, but we’re going to need them all, and they’re all going to play.”

LeShoure is doing all he can to stay out on the field so he can replicate his performance from last Saturday.

“I got a shot before the game to take away my pain, but, Sunday and Monday, the pain came back,” he said. “I’m still a little sore, but it’s getting there.