Column: I’ll be spending these holidays going bowling

By David Just

I’ve been begging family members to pool money together and purchase me a brand spankin’ new laptop for the holidays, but I have a feeling it isn’t coming. I could buy it myself, but come holiday season, I’ll be spending all my money on the best gift of them all: a bowling trip.

With a little luck, the Illini and I will be bowling in Pasadena, Calif., the home of the Rose Bowl, on New Year’s Day. But hey, I certainly won’t be crying if Illinois goes somewhere else. I’m not a greedy person.

It is impossible for me to put into words the excitement and sheer joy I have experienced watching this year’s football team. Coming into the season I was nervous about the Ron Zook era, perhaps unfairly so. See, the emotional effects of four victories in two seasons has a way of staying with you.

I hadn’t been wowed by Zook’s coaching through 23 games, and frankly, I still haven’t. But that’s beside the point.

All the while I should have been listening to the wise words of Uncle Mark, who said to me quite eloquently before the season began: “Forget about his coaching. He gets good players; put the talent on the field and good things happen.”

Well, it was something like that anyway. He couldn’t have been more right.

And wouldn’t you know it: Ron Zook was named Big Ten Coach of the Year just a week ago.

Consider this: Illinois won exactly two games last year. Two! Now the team boasts its first-ever Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in Rashard Mendenhall and Arrelious Benn is the first Freshman of the Year to wear orange and blue since Simeon Rice in ’92.

The Illini are the only team in the country to knock off two top-five teams. Two! And Jason Reda’s leg conquered the Big Ten with a 93.75 field goal percentage – another school record. He is one of only three kickers in the nation to hit three 50-yarders this season.

I’m running out of breath and I haven’t even begun to touch on a defense that sent seven players to All-Big Ten teams. J Leman led the Big Ten in tackles for 16 straight weeks dating back to last season. I suppose it goes without saying that he led the Big Ten in the category this season, spurring the Illini rushing defense to a top-25 ranking.

The achievements of this team go on and on, each of them a present for us during the holiday season. And if presents aren’t your thing, I hope the Illini were at least something you gave thanks for last week.

I sure did. Now, who’s ready to bowl?