In a wee bit of foreshadowing on Saturday afternoon at Oak Park River Forest High School, Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Schultz and Illini co-defensive coordinator Curt Mallory headed up to the press box while the players wrapped up warmups.
While Schultz (and QB coach Kurt Beathard) had no problems making contact with the other offensive assistants on their headphones, Mallory kept shouting into his headset, "Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" Co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch never could hear Mallory, so he had to head back downto the field before play began.
And so it went for Illinois' offense and defense before an eager crowd of 2,500 that thinned out midway through because the wind outfought the sun for control of the "Real Feel" temperature.
Illinois' offense piled up 560 yards and 6 touchdowns in 105 plays. If you throw out third-string QB Jacob Charest's four mishandled snaps -- and three drops by the receivers -- the offense had almost nothing to complain about.
Senior QB Juice Williams stuck with high-percentage passes and clicked on 9 of his first 10 passes for 128 yards. That included a 27-yard touchdown slant to Florida transfer Jarred Fayson (who beat walk-on third-string CB Nattiel Perkins). Williams also rushed for a 3-yard score on the option.
Sophomore RB Mikel Leshoure, looking almost too big and strong to be tackled, racked up 123 yards and 2 scores in just 14 carries. Jason Ford (who also added considerable muscle in the offseason) and Daniel Dufrene added TD runs during the red-zone portion of the program.
"I call them the two bowling balls," Fayson said with a big smile.
Fayson, meanwhile, gives Illinois' offense a perfect complement to Rejus Benn. Not only did Fayson lead everyone with 5 catches for 60 yards, he's also comfortable lining up in the backfield and running the ball.
"I was fair, you know," Fayson said. "But for the most part, I felt (the offense) was very impressive. I had one drop. I'm still thinking about that now."
To be fair to Illinois' defense, the first string featured just three regulars from last year -- and only DE Doug Pilcher and CB Dere Hicks are in familiar places. The Illini are trying to sort out several spots, particularly all three linebacker jobs.
Martez Wilson, who lost his outside linebacker job late last season, has moved into the middle while redshirt sophomore Ian Thomas (strong-side) and lightly used true sophomore Russell Ellington (weak-side) ran with the first string all day. None of those jobs are locked in stone, though.
"They didn't play very good today, to be honest with you," Disch said. "They'd had a couple good days of practice."
As for Tez?
"Right now, he's our most experienced guy and we want our most experienced guy in the middle," Disch said. "He understands the defense more than the other guys, so it was a natural move. We've got to get our best guy in there and kind of build from there. If he plays fast, (his speed) absolutely can lend itself in there. He can go sideline-to-sideline."
Meanwhile, after being off-limits to the media since he was stabbed twice in a late-night fight last December, 'Tez was allowed to talk about his new linebacking exploits.
"I like the middle a lot," he said. "We've got to freshen up a lot on defense as a whole. I've got to freshen up a lot...I feel very comfortable playing the middle now. I think I'm going to make a lot of plays there."
In addition to being inexperienced, Illinois' defense also is relatively vanilla as everyone learns their assignments. For example, former linebacker/fullback Rahkeem Smith (Willowbrook HS) started at defensive tackle though he has only been there for a few weeks.
Here was the starting lineup:
WR Jarred Fayson
WR Arrelious Benn
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
LT Corey Lewis
LG Randall Hunt
C Eric Block
RG Jon Asamoah
RT Ryan Palmer
QB Juice Williams
RB Jason Ford
RB Mikel Leshoure
LE Antonio James
LT Corey Liuget
RT Rakheem Smith
RE Doug Pilcher
WLB Russell Ellington
MLB Martez Wilson
SLB Ian Thomas
CB Dere Hicks
CB Tavon Wilson
S Bo Flowers
S Garrett Edwards
Rushing: Leshoure 14-123-2, Ford 10-58-1, Williams 11-48-1, Benn 6-25, Dufrene 6-21-1, McGee 13-21, Charest 8-7.
Passing: Williams 13-20-167-0-1, McGee 5-10-51-0-0, Charest 4-7-41-0-0.
Receiving: Fayson 5-60-1, Hoomanawanui 4-39, Benn 3-38, Dufrene 3-26, Duvalt 2-29, Ramsey 2-20, Ford 1-36, Sykes 1-3.