2012 Redbird Football Media Day
Normal – The Illinois State football team is coming off a 7-4 season and a third place finish in the MVC. During Monday’s media day players and coaches expressed excitement about out-performing last season.
The Redbirds are returning a majority of their MVC leading defense. Senior defensive ends Shelby Harris and Nate Palmer are a great tandem together and had a combined 15.5 sacks last season. Senior linebacker Evan Frierson is another key player returning to the Redbird defense. He transferred from the University of Illinois prior to last year’s season. Frierson ended up being a great addition to ISU, because he was second on the team in tackles and was selected to the MVC All-Newcomer team.
When asked about how the transition went from the Big-Ten to the MVC, Frierson said, “When I came here I just shut my mouth and won my teammates over with my hard work and my play.”
The defense will have to play on without the presence of leaders Josh Howe and Eric Brunner, who graduated last spring. When asked who will step up in their place, Head Coach Brock Spack said Senior linebacker Mike Zimmer will fill that role. “He’s moved into mike (linebacker) and he’s done a great job,” Spack Said. ” He’s really athletic, tough and very smart.”
On the other side of the ball, ISU has a lot of talent returning. The notables are Senior quarterback Matt Brown, Senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker and Junior fullback Jordan Neukirch. Brown and Walker hooked up for eight touchdowns last year. The standout receiver led the team with 64 receptions and 787 receiving yards last season. The man throwing the passes to Walker had himself a good season as well. Brown finished the 2011 season with 2,187 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Walker spoke about what kind of relationship Brown and him share.
” I’ve been doing this with him for four years now. So there’s really not too much we can’t read off of each other. What you see is what you get,” Walker said.
Neukirch was primarily Ashton Leggett’s lead blocker last year. He only carried the ball three times and caught four passes last year, but was so important to ISU’s run game that he earned All-MVC Second Team honors. This season he will be lead blocking for Senior tailback and Bloomington native Darrelynn Dunn.
Dunn played backup to Leggett last year. He carried the ball 46 times for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Dunn is a bigger running back, standing at 6 feet 1 inches tall and weighing in at 220. The back field will likely involve a combination of Dunn and Junior running back Jonathon Miller. Miller is banged up right now and can’t practice until cleared by doctors. When he is healthy, Miller will compete with Dunn for the number one tailback spot.
Spack didn’t seem too worried about his back field. Spack said, “I’m very comfortable with our tailbacks, but knock on wood you got to keep them healthy.”
The part of the team that Spack is most concerned with fixing is the offensive line. All five starters from last year graduated, leaving a serious void to fill. “It’ll be a work in progress through training camp and maybe the early part of the season,” Spack said. “We’re more talented there than we’ve been in the past. We’re just not as experienced.”
The Redbirds should be able to withstand a developing line with an experienced quarterback in Brown to go along with a playmaker in Walker.
Redbird fans will be happy to hear that the main goal ISU has this season is going undefeated and winning a FCS National – high, but reachable aspirations for a team returning a lot of talent. If the ‘Birds can stay healthy this season, they might be in for a deep playoff run.