Illini track and field adds football player to roster

The Illini men’s track and field team has what could become a secret weapon this season. Sophomore Ryan Lankford, a wide receiver on the football team, has been allowed by newly hired football head coach Tim Beckman to compete with the track squad during his football offseason. Lankford, an elite athlete in high school, will participate in the long jump for the Illini. Illinois men’s track and field head coach Mike Turk hopes Lankford’s intangibles will help him curb the learning curve.

“Ryan’s got a great attitude and he’s got a great work ethic,” Turk said before this past weekend’s Orange and Blue Open. “He’s very coachable, so he can soak up whatever he can.”

*Illini schedule getting tougher*

The Illini have approached this track and field season with a progressive attitude. Their schedule’s difficulty increases with nearly every meet they compete in, and they’ve kept that in mind in their training and official performances.

“We know that as we go through the season that each week the level of competition will go up the ladder and the stakes are going to get higher,” Turk said after their second meet, the Illini Classic.

The Illini will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., this weekend to compete in the Tyson Invitational, which will feature the best competition they’ve seen thus far this season. After that, on Feb. 24 and 25, they will travel to Lincoln, Neb., for the Big Ten Championships, where they hope to improve on last year’s seventh-place finish.

*Senior Azie hoping for indoor nationals appearance*

Illinois men’s track and field senior sprinter Stanley Azie was named an All-American by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) last year for his sixth-place finish in the 100 meters at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He is poised to make an appearance at the indoor NCAA championships this season.

“Ultimately, I want to be back at the national meet,” Azie said before the Mark Colligan Memorial Invitational in Lincoln, Neb., two weeks ago. “So, I mean, it’s key for me to get my 200 time to a lot better than where it is right now. I know that (Turk) holds high expectations for me, and I hold even higher expectations for myself.”

Azie ran a 21.73 in the 200 meters at the Mark Colligan Memorial Invitational. The time is 1.03 seconds away from his personal best. He will have another chance to beat his mark this weekend at the Tyson Invitational.

*Team struggles with hamstring injuries this season*

Hamstrings have become a bother for the Illinois men’s track and field squad this season. Some key athletes have struggled with hamstring issues, keeping them out of training or meets, or both.

“The one concerning thing was that we had a couple of guys we were really cautious with because of sore hamstrings,” Turk said after the Mark Colligan Memorial Invitational. “That’s a little concerning and disappointing that they couldn’t compete.”

Sophomore pole-vaulter Matt Bane and freshman high jumper James Davenport are among the Illini dealing with the injury. Turk has used them sparingly in an attempt to have them at 100 percent by the time Big Tens roll around.