Illini football going all-out for bowl berth

When Nathan Scheelhaase was flipping through channels on Saturday night, he stopped on ESPN’s College GameDay.

When the highlights turned to Illinois’ botched two-point conversion, which would’ve tied last Saturday’s 67-65 triple-overtime loss to Michigan, he watched intently.

Then he rewound and watched it again. Then he rewound it again, and did the same thing several times.

He knows he’ll have to get used to watching that game and that play over and over, as Illinois-Michigan — 2010 version is sure to be an instant classic.

“That’s probably the most frustrating part, you’re probably going to have to watch it the next 30 years of your life,” he said.

For now, the Illini are working on getting their loss at the Big House out of their heads. Trulon Henry, who mentioned that he was emotionally exhausted after the game, had a hard time keeping it off his mind all weekend.

“After practice yesterday, that emotion from the Michigan game was out the door,” he said. “It really took us competing again, against that scout team, to really feel like that game was behind us.”

It would be easy for the Illini to get themselves down after that emotional letdown.

That is why head coach Ron Zook is pulling out all the stops, removing the ban on the “B-word,” as they call it, in the locker room.

As the Illini (5-3, 3-3 Big Ten) approached six wins, players weren’t allowed to even say the word “bowl” around Illinois facilities. Now that the Illini only have three games remaining to get their all-important sixth win, Zook is using the possibility of a bowl berth as motivation.

“He pulled it out yesterday in a team meeting, he said, ‘If you want to go to a bowl game, this is what we’re going to have to do,’” Henry said. “We kind of control our own destiny from here on out, so I can see why he used that word, we need to get after it more.”

Scheelhaase vowed after his Big Ten Player of the Week performance against Purdue never to let his highs get too high or his lows get too low.

After the emotional loss, he saw an even more motivated team in practice.

“I think it can actually be a good thing. I think coming off that emotional high, I think we actually had a lot of energy in practice,” the redshirt freshman quarterback said, wearing a green wristband, emblazoned with the acronym FIST, which stands for fundamentals, intensity, speed and toughness.

Every player on offense was issued one of these green bands after Camp Rantoul by offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. The wristband is green because the color, like a stoplight, symbolizes the team’s ability to go all-out.

“You can be in the green, the yellow, the red. You always want to be in the green,” Scheelhaase said. “Everything’s clicking, you’re enthused about what you’re doing, you’re playing hard, you’re doing the right things. There are going to be certain times you fall into the yellow, but you don’t want to go to red.”

As the Illini score more and more points, receiver Jarred Fayson sees the Illini offense moving more and more into the green.

“The guys are growing up, everyone is growing up. Putting in time, watching film, having a better understanding of the way teams are trying to attack us. Just believing in our coaches, believing in Coach Petrino. He’s trying to place that in our heads, his offense works,” Fayson said, adding that FIST has a double meaning. “If you hit someone with an open fist, you can break your knuckles, break your hand. But if you ball it all up and hit someone, you can knock them out. That’s basically what our offense is. All 11 guys have to do their job for one play to work.”