Whitman announces $79 million football facility

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Whitman announces $79 million football facility

By Mike Gasick, Staff writer

University of Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman announced the athletic department’s stake in the “With Illinois” project prior to football head coach Lovie Smith’s press conference Monday. The university-wide $2.25 billion fundraising initiative will run through 2022. The athletic department will receive $300 million.

Whitman said the donated money will go to student scholarships, capital projects and student-athlete enhancement. The No. 1 capital project on Whitman’s agenda is the new football practice facility that was announced last year. The plan is to break ground on the project in 2018 and finish it by the 2019 football season.

“I think this football facility absolutely would put us in the top tier of the Big Ten,” Whitman said. “There’s a thirst out there; people want our athletics program to be successful.”

I FUND scholarships make up $70 million of the overall campaign goal for the athletic department. That money helps cover tuition, room and board, fees and other expenses for more than 258 scholarships awarded by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

An additional $200 million will go to projects for athletics facilities around campus.

The facility will cost $79.2 million, and span 112,000 square feet. The building will allow players to walk from Memorial Stadium to the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility without stepping outside. Spaces for coaching offices, sports medicine, training and locker rooms will all be a part of the building’s new features.

“Man, you want to take a trip down memory lane, (the facilities at the University of California) were nowhere near like that,” said defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson. “I think the guys are really gonna like it and it’s really gonna help us.”

Nickerson said some recruits really take into account what resources and facilities will be around them for the next four years of their lives.

Smith was asked about the renderings during his press conference, which put a smile on his face.

“Recruiting is a lot about facilities and what’s in front of athletes when they come on your campus,” Smith said. “Once we get our new facility completed, it’s going to be a showcase that has to help our overall plan for how we’re bringing our football program back.”

Defense takes a step forward against Wisconsin

Illinois’ defense limited the Wisconsin offense to 24 points and held Big Ten leading rusher Jonathan Taylor in check throughout the game.

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was held to just 135 yards.

Linebackers Dele Harding and Del’Shawn Phillips returned to action from injuries, recording a combined 20 tackles.

Defensive lineman James Crawford said having the two back was a nice addition to the defense.

“Those two guys are very hard-nosed coming downhill at you,” Crawford said. “They help with double teams off the inside guy and also help fill gaps.”

Crawford said the defense approached practice last week with the right mindset and proved its capabilities against the Badgers.

Phillips said he was also pleased with the unit’s performance Saturday, especially its run defense.

“After watching the Minnesota film, we saw a few guys get off gaps or not keep their assignment,” Phillips said. “So we had to be more focused, and that’s all it came down to (against Wisconsin).”

Foster happy with his situation

Running back Kendrick Foster received his first start since Week 1’s matchup against Ball State.

Foster said he is going to try making an impact when he is fortunate enough to receive playing time.

The senior rushed 15 times for 66 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin.

“I don’t make the decisions,” Foster said. “My teammates are great. Mike (Epstein)’s great. Reggie (Corbin)’s great. Ra’Von (Bonner)’s great. So they’re gonna put the best person in that situation to win, but I’m just taking it by stride and taking advantage of every opportunity I get.”

Freshman Epstein is out for the year with a leg injury, while Bonner, also a freshman, was held out of last week’s game with a head injury.

Foster said he doesn’t know if he will get the start next week, but said everyone on the team has been supportive of him this season.

“My teammates know I’m a great running back and great person,” Foster said. “They just tell me to continue to work. They’ve all been encouraging me to stay at it and continue to believe in (myself).”

Correction: Whitman announced the athletic department’s role in the “With Illinois” fundraising campaign, not the campaign itself.