Hernandez sees progress in top players

Junior+Brandon+Peters+throws+a+pass+during+the+match+against+Connecticut+on+Sep.+12%2C+2019.

Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Junior Brandon Peters throws a pass during the match against Connecticut on Sep. 12, 2019.

By Carson Gourdie, Assistant Sports Editor

In just over two months, Illinois expects to run out of the tunnels to take on in-state foe Illinois State — albeit in front of a mere 12,000 spectators. Nonetheless, before Peters and company can start fall practice or take their first snap of the much awaited 2020 season, the Illini must hit the weight room daily. Head strength coach Lou Hernandez has made sure the men who’ve traveled down to Champaign this summer have been carrying their weight. 

Despite new regulations in the weight room and a decrease in numbers, Hernandez and staff remain bullish about the workouts so far. Although they see the results in many of their athletes, it appears that senior quarterback Brandon Peters is stealing the show in Champaign. 

“I couldn’t be happier with (his workouts) in this time off,” Hernandez said. “Looking at him right now, his body looks incredible. He’s definitely maintained or probably put on some lean muscle mass, he’s got some more definition on him. Watching him run, he looks absolutely incredible. He has got his big long strides and won some races. That shows a lot to this football team how important it is for our quarterback to get it done.”

If you’re an Illini fan, Hernandez’s claim is music to the ears. First of all, Peters showed last year he’s one of the most underrated dual threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten. At first glance, looking at Peters’ frame, people would expect a pocket passer. But last season, especially against Iowa, Peters gashed defenses with his legs. If it weren’t for a few untimely fumbles, the Illini might have upset the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. 

Second, it’s always a good thing when the quarterback leads by example. While some have been slacking off a tad during the pandemic, Peters has taken advantage of the extra time to get in the best football shape he could be in. Winning races against other skill positions that are supposed to be faster than him? That’s not supposed to happen. 

Now, Peters probably won’t have the Joe Burrow-esque senior season and lead the Illini to their first national championship since the Harry Truman administration. Having said that, he might do enough damage to make Jim Harbaugh and Michigan wish they never let him transfer down to Illinois. 

Illinois starts off the season with Illinois State, UCONN, Bowling Green State and Rutgers. With all due respect, not a single one of those teams have a fraction of the talent Lovie Smith has collected for this season. Assuming they go 4-0 – but who thought they would lose to Eastern Michigan last year – Peters will rack up stats and confidence going into a daunting Big Ten schedule. 

While Peters has been getting most of the love, Hernandez was quick to point out many of the skill players are right up to par with the quarterback. 

“When you got Jake Hansen and Khalan Tolson, they are really leading the charge right now,” Hernandez said. “Luke Ford is showing some flashes of everything we are expecting him to be, so it’s really encouraging to see where these guys are now.”

Luke Ford, of course, is the hailed Georgia Bulldog transfer the NCAA denied immediate eligibility. A talented tight end, if Ford can play anywhere near the hype he’s received, he will have given Peters and Rod Smith an invaluable gift and opposing defenses a nightmare. 

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the summer workouts, though. Hernandez noted that a good chunk of the football team has elected to stay home due to safety concerns. And although the staff appreciates the ones that did make Champaign their summer home for workouts, not every player on the team has lived up to the expectations Peters has set, especially in nutrition department. 

“When we meet with our nutritionist, we have a lot of guys who are alarmingly (more body fat) than expected,” Hernandez said. “We’ll have our nutritionist sit down and take their body fat. It’s a big eye opener for a lot of them.”

While most of America has been gaining the corona five pounds during the lockdown, Hernandez isn’t giving his players a pass — just more workouts. 

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