The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois’ offense shines bright in Spring Game

James Hoeck
(Front) Sophomore wide receiver Malik Elzy scores the first touchdown during the first quarter of the Spring Game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, with sophomore defensive back Ben Clawson closely behind.

The spring season wrapped up on Saturday afternoon in an unusual scene at Memorial Stadium. An empty sea of metal bleachers wrapped around half the stadium, with specks of fans in the North and West seating. 

A windy 50-degree day greeted a unique opening kickoff without tacklers. Sophomore kicker David Olano booted the ball through the end zone, and the first half was underway.

Sophomore quarterback Donovan Leary got the start under center for the white team after a strong camp. His first two throws were crisp, and a third down strike from Leary hit sophomore wide receiver Ashton Hollins square in the chest past the chains, but he couldn’t come down with it. 

As the first-string offense took the field, dressed in navy blue, junior quarterback Luke Altmyer took the snap, looking to improve on his first season in Champaign. Following some injury-ridden seasons to begin his collegiate career, junior running back Josh McCray got the ball in the backfield on the first play and rushed for eight yards. 

To avoid consecutive three-and-outs to kick off the game, Altmyer started a strong connection throughout the day. He hit sophomore wide receiver Malik Elzy in stride for a 20-yard pickup. Four plays later, the duo struck again, getting the Illini into the red zone before McCray punched it in for the score. 

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A couple of three-play possessions, one for each team, put the ball back in Altmyer’s hands for the third drive. Two 20-yard plays fueled a quick drive, beginning with sophomore running back Aidan Laughery getting a carry up the middle. With few healthy half-backs on the roster this spring, Laughery got a chance to get some major reps and showed his physicality early. The 200-pounder broke multiple tackles as he rumbled for 26 yards. 

A couple of plays later, Altmyer found Elzy in the endzone for a 23-yard score. It was a veteran play from two guys yet to start for a full season in college, showing off some back-shoulder throw chemistry.

After some drop issues and playing under upperclassmen receivers in his freshman season, Elzy showed some of the hype that followed him out of high school. The four-star recruit is expected to be a major part of the offensive scheme in the fall and finished his spring with six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. 

Laughery joined Elzy as an offensive standout, showcasing raw talent and IQ. The sophomore was a threat in the run-and-pass game on Saturday, helping out his quarterbacks in many ways. His physicality matches that of McCray and sophomore running back Kaden Feagin on the ground; his route running and ability to find space in the backfield for dump-offs are much needed for Illinois. 

On his fifth drive of the day, Laughery found himself wide open in the end zone for an 18-yard score, highlighting his 97 total yardage day. The quick scoring drives continued just before halftime as Leary finally got some rhythm.

Two plays and 75 yards later, Leary had taken them to the endzone. The play of the day began the drive, with junior wide receiver Alexander Capka-Jones hauling in a 42-yard pass while gliding through the air. He maintained possession through contact, giving them a great field position. There was no relaxing for the defense, as the next pass was uncorked to the endzone, with redshirt freshman wide receiver Collin Dixon on the other end of a 33-yard score.

A running clock in the second half made the rest of the game fly by, but some other standouts performed well. The receivers found themselves open plenty, as Capka-Jones made another nice grab in the endzone for his first score of the day. Sophomore wideout Mario Sanders II secured a couple of one-handed grabs in the short passing game, putting his speed on display. 

Defensively, the Illini have some big holes to fill, but several returners had nice days. Senior linebacker Seth Coleman only had two tackles but was very disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jojo Hayden joined Coleman with a good day, wrapping up seven tackles. 

The secondary was something to watch coming in as a weaker unit in 2023, and while they struggled in coverage, sophomore corner Saboor Karriem turned some heads. Leading the team in tackles for loss with 2.5, Karriem displayed solid tackling in the backfield for a defensive back. 

Many backups received reps in the second half as the clock wound down to zero. The program now shuts things down until the summer, when they begin workouts for the 2024 fall season. 



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About the Contributors
Ben Fader
Ben Fader, Sports Editor
Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
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