Allegretti, offensive line shooting for improved 2018

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Allegretti, offensive line shooting for improved 2018

Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti (53) grabs backup quarterback Chayce Crouch (7) after he scored a touchdown in the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 8. The Illini lost 34-31.

Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti (53) grabs backup quarterback Chayce Crouch (7) after he scored a touchdown in the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 8. The Illini lost 34-31.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti (53) grabs backup quarterback Chayce Crouch (7) after he scored a touchdown in the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 8. The Illini lost 34-31.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti (53) grabs backup quarterback Chayce Crouch (7) after he scored a touchdown in the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 8. The Illini lost 34-31.

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

For Luke Butkus and the Illinois football offensive line, it all comes down to toughness.

Trying to build a winning program often starts in the trenches. Succeeding against well-coached, physical Big Ten defenses can come down to whether the offensive line can provide the protection needed for an offense to execute.

Butkus, for his third season as the Illini offensive line coach, preaches this idea.

“I want us to be the most mentally and physically tough unit on the team, on the field, at all times; that’s where it all starts,” Butkus said. “It’s our job to correct them technique-wise, their footwork, their pad level, their hands. I want these guys to go out there with a sense of urgency and the feeling and mindset that they can go out there and dominate a game.”

With the line returning the vast majority of its players from last fall, the unit can draw on a season’s worth of experience and lessons learned.

Fifth-year senior Nick Allegretti is the unquestioned leader of the line. In his time at Illinois, he has seen multiple coaches get hired and fired, numerous struggles on the field and off-field turmoil that has, at times, surrounded the entire program.

Allegretti is eager to prove that his team can bounce back from adversity and be a competitive and powerful challenger in the Big Ten. 

“We have been beat up physically and mentally; it’s been draining,” Allegretti said. “We’ve shown every day, working all last season, this offseason, the guys that are in this building want to be in this building. A lot of guys had the option to leave and they stayed for this university. Everyone in that locker room is hungry; everyone on that coaching staff is hungry.”

Only nine returning seniors are currently on the Illini roster. Including Allegretti, the group may have wanted to look elsewhere for its final year of eligibility. The players weren’t recruited by Lovie Smith and, in fact, the program is almost alien compared to what it was when they arrived in Champaign.

But Allegretti said the decision to return for his final year was an easy choice.

“I know for myself and the rest of the seniors, this is our last chance. We’ve been through a lot of stuff at this university,” Allegretti said. “Ups and downs and coaching changes, all that; it’s been hard. So this is our last chance. I know the guys in the locker room want to do it for the seniors, and we all really appreciate that.”

Sophomore Alex Palczewski started 11 games last season, only missing the opener because of an injury. He, Vederian Lowe and Larry Boyd made up the only-ever trio of freshmen to start together on the offensive line in Illinois history.

After playing together for a full year, the Mount Prospect, Illinois, native stressed the importance of the unit coming together, but also that accountability will be key.

“We all have to be accountable for each other and be vocal with each other,” Palczewski said. “Just help each other out.”

Allegretti is the main source of leadership on the line, but he is no longer leading a raw group of inexperienced guys. The group knows what Big Ten football looks like now, because they learned it the hard way, going 2-10 last year after starting 2-0.

Allegretti feels his teammates must have the right mindset and level of confidence to be able to compete at a high level. The group is young, but it’s returning a foundation that spent all of last year developing. Allegretti thinks this season’s unit can become far more successful now that its base has been built.

“Yeah, Vederian, Larry, Alex, they’re technically now rising sophomores, but they haven’t even been here for a year yet,” Allegretti said. “But they can’t have that mentality. It’s got to be, ‘I played 11 games, 10 games, nine  games,’ whatever it was last year, ‘I’m a Big Ten football player.’”

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