Foster gets his rhythm back in return as starting running back

Illinois+running+back+Kendrick+Foster+dodges+defenders+during+the+game+against+Rutgers+on+Oct.+24.+Although+Illinois+lost+to+Wisconsin+35-24%2C+Kendrick+Foster+intends+to+make+the+most+of+his+last+season+as+an+Illini+football+player+and+take+advantage+of+every+opportunity.+
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Foster gets his rhythm back in return as starting running back

Illinois running back Kendrick Foster dodges defenders during the game against Rutgers on Oct. 24. Although Illinois lost to Wisconsin 35-24, Kendrick Foster intends to make the most of his last season as an Illini football player and take advantage of every opportunity.

Illinois running back Kendrick Foster dodges defenders during the game against Rutgers on Oct. 24. Although Illinois lost to Wisconsin 35-24, Kendrick Foster intends to make the most of his last season as an Illini football player and take advantage of every opportunity.

Quentin Shaw

Illinois running back Kendrick Foster dodges defenders during the game against Rutgers on Oct. 24. Although Illinois lost to Wisconsin 35-24, Kendrick Foster intends to make the most of his last season as an Illini football player and take advantage of every opportunity.

Quentin Shaw

Quentin Shaw

Illinois running back Kendrick Foster dodges defenders during the game against Rutgers on Oct. 24. Although Illinois lost to Wisconsin 35-24, Kendrick Foster intends to make the most of his last season as an Illini football player and take advantage of every opportunity.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff Writer

After losing his starting running back spot after the first game of the season, Kendrick Foster was deflated.

The senior running back was named to the Doak Walker award watchlist — an award for college football’s top running back — and spent the offseason hearing Illinois head coach Lovie Smith talking him up, only to be relegated to special teams duties for most of the season.

“You kind of take things for granted from last season until now,” Foster said. “You finally realize how fortunate you are to carry the ball, to be out there on the field. (The last few weeks) have been humbling, for sure.”

Foster lost his starting spot to true freshman Mike Epstein, who emerged as one of the better players on the Illini offense before a foot injury ended his season early.

After Esptein went down, Ra’Von Bonner stepped into the starting role, and a returning Reggie Corbin offered a change of pace. Foster was unable to find a role in the offense and only carried the ball twice in Illinois’ last five games before Wisconsin.

But with Bonner sidelined with an injury this week, Smith turned to Foster with No. 5 Wisconsin coming to Champaign. It was the opportunity that Foster had been waiting for.

“I have an opportunity to prove that I’m one of the best running backs in the Big Ten still,” Foster said. “This is my time to remind why I am on that top running backs in the country list.”

Foster admitted that he felt rusty at the beginning of the game, but said that by the end of the game he had found his rhythm again. He credited his focus on the smaller details, like pass blocking, with helping him get up to game speed.

“It doesn’t get noted on the stat book, but I take pride in blocking 6-foot-two-inch 250-pound linebackers,” Foster said. “Especially being a smaller back in the Big Ten, I get pumped up about it.”

The 5-foot-nine-inch, 190-pound back finished the game with 66 yards on 15 carries in the loss. He also scored his first touchdown of the season late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s good to get that monkey off your back and get your first (touchdown),” Foster said. “But at the end of the day it’s about the team, and we lost. We had opportunities to get ahead, but the offense has to convert on those turnovers. I put that on me.”

Foster said he holds himself to a high standard. While he was happy about what had been accomplished, he was critical of his own performance. He caught himself trying to force big plays with the ball in his hands, and that he expects to take advantage of opportunities he gets throughout the rest of the season.

With his final Homecoming game in the books, Foster has started to think about what lies ahead for him, but for now he is focused on making the most of what is left of his senior season.

“I have aspirations of playing at the next level, so I’m going to do everything in my power to set myself up for that, and hopefully take care of my mother and family in the future,” Foster said. “This sport has been a vehicle for me to get a free education, and it’s moved mountains and opened doors for me. I love this game and I’m willing to put everything on the line for it.”

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