While attending Illinois’ practices on Saturday, I got to talking with another reporter about concussions. He mentioned the unfortunate case of Illini lineman Andrew Carter, who suffered a concussion in spring ball and was still wracked by intense pain weeks later.
Well, it turns out Carter’s lingering pain might not have been attributable to the concussion. Ron Zook told reporters after Monday’s practice Carter had a benign brain tumor removed during the offseason and can no longer play. According to the News-Gazette, Carter lost his hearing in one ear and struggles with balance issues.
It’s an unfortunate story that reminds, yet again, to revel in whatever you’re doing while you’re doing it --- whether it be football or anything else. Best wishes to Andrew going forward. He’ll remain on scholarship until he completes his degree.
The Wildcats get Practice No. 2 underway at 4 p.m. in Evanston. NCAA rules prohibit anything more than helmets until the third practice, so NU will again be individual drill-heavy.
While Northwestern had just one change on its on-field coaching staff during the offseason (former Indiana receivers coach Dennis Springer joined NU shortly after the Wildcats’ Kevin Johns left for Indiana), there was an under-the-radar change in the weight room.
After 30 years as NU’s director of strength and conditioning, Larry Lilja is no longer with the program. He has been replaced by Jay Hooten, who served as Lilja’s assistant the last two seasons. Hooten has been given a new title (“Director of Football Performance”) and the authority to tweak the Wildcats’ offseason preparation.
Apparently Hooten has made quite the impact because graduate student/linebacker Bryce McNaul began discussing some of Hooten’s innovations without being prompted.
“Coach Hooten came in with some new stuff that kind of made a lot of guys flinch at first --- guys that were used to the old stuff we were doing,” McNaul said. “I think it helps us adapt and become better athletes.
“(He does) a lot of stuff that puts you in a compromised position as an athlete. We’re up on one leg more (during certain exercises and lifts). Putting a muscle that’s prone to injury in a compromised position and then strengthening it --- like a hamstring. And we added workouts on the beach. We tried to do that in the past with captain’s practices, but doing actual workouts with our strength staff overseeing it was helpful. It’s a different tempo when you’ve got a coach there.”
I asked graduate student/safety Brian Peters for his take on this stuff and he promptly gave me two technical terms that flew over my head.
“Sorry,” Peters said. “When you’re an athlete, you’re running. You’re on single legs reacting from one thing to another, so the more you can build single-leg strength the more it translates. A lot of posterior-chain stuff. A lot of core. We did everything.”
Peters said it was fun waking up on Tuesday mornings and heading straight to Northwestern’s beach for workouts. He and several other guys went back on their own for more sand workouts on Saturday mornings.
But what does it all mean on Saturday mornings (and afternoons and evenings) this fall?
“It goes back to getting us in the most compromised position possible,” McNaul said. “And putting your joints in that position and strengthening them so, when we’re on the field, we’re able to jump out of our cuts better. If you can jump out of a cut on sand, you can jump out of a cut on grass.”
McNaul, who has endured several injuries during his first four years, promises he’s 100 percent healthy: “I feel so solid, it’s ridiculous. I’m overjoyed to feel that way and be out on the field.”
Senior Jeff Allen is regarded as one of the Big Ten’s and the nation’s finest offensive tackles. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino employs a weak/strong line system, which allows him to flip his guards and tackles to whichever side he pleases --- and allows him to put Allen where he can make the biggest impact on any given play.
But Allen, who has made 34 consecutive starts, can’t stay in Champaign forever. That’s where freshman Pat Flavin from Benet Academy comes into play. Flavin is viewed as Illinois’ weak tackle of the future because of his quick feet, but he has a long way to go to realize his potential.
For one thing, the 6-foot-7 Flavin showed up for summer school at 248 pounds. There hasn’t been a starting Big Ten lineman at that weight since before Flavin was born. However, he put on 15 pounds before fall camp began last week.
“With (strength) Coach Lou (Hernandez) and the lifting program and the protein shakes they put you on, it really helps out a lot,” said Flavin, who estimated he drinks 4-5 shakes per day. “There’s different types of them. The two that I take are Mighty Shakes, which are kind of like chocolate milk and there’s a lot of protein. The MetRx shakes are more post-workout recovery shakes.”
When he’s not gulping shakes or getting practice reps, Flavin watches Allen and learns what it takes.
“Anything Coach (Joe Gilbert) says to Jeff in the meetings, I try to write down,” Flavin said. “I look at him and what he does and try to envision myself doing it. I mean, every rep he does on film is pretty much perfect.”
After conducting their first full-pads workout Monday night, the Huskies get their first day away from the practice field. It’s not necessarily a day off, though, as NIU holds its media day. I have a hunch there’s some weightlifting involved for the fellas, too.
I’ll have much more on the Huskies this afternoon.