By Steve Robinson | August 1, 2017 - 10:54 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Illinois State University head football coach Brock Spack told reporters at the team’s annual Media Day on Aug. 1 his team had “a very good off-season, and that the first practice the team had was typical of a first day back when even the veterans tried to get back in the routine again.”

The Redbirds, who finished 2016 below .500 for only the second season in Spack’s tenure up to that year, begin Spack’s ninth season when Butler visits Hancock Stadium for a non-conference contest on Saturday, Sept. 2 for a 6:30p.m. kickoff.

“We’re a long team and athletic,” Spack said. “But we’re inexperienced in certain spots.” That means as of yet untested talent the Redbirds will get five weeks between Media Day and their first game to put players into position in time to start the season.

Spack said his troops will have their hands full against Butler, and then again at their first away game at Eastern Illinois on Sept. 9.

While 6 foot-3 Jake Kolbe is set to start at quarterback for the Redbirds, a competition in training camp will determine from whom he will receive snaps, Spack said. Peoria Richwoods High alum Tyler Brown and Dan Helt, a 6 foot-5 senior were rotated through on the position of center during camp’s first few days.

Spack said junior quarterback Kolbe has recovered from an injury he sustained last season and has spent time in the weight room this summer which has made him “a bigger guy structurally” according to his coach. The Redbirds “are Jake’s team now,” the coach added, the result of Kolbe stepping away from the shadow of graduate Tré Roberson. Roberson is now playing defensive back for NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

Redshirt Players Will Study: Being a redshirt freshman player has advantages and disadvantages. It gives you a year to the team’s playing system and study the team playbook at length for one season before stepping up to be on the field. But that means you sit out a whole season when a player would rather be trying to contribute. Ryan Zitkus, a redshirt freshman from Bloomington Central Catholic would like to find himself playing center in the future for the Redbirds but said he knows the wait to take to the gridiron will be worth it. “If I become a starter…great,” Zitkus said. “If not, I’m going to support the guys in front of me.” Right now though, Zitkus said he’s “just trying to learn the game.”

Zitkus will have some company familiar to him while he waits to hit the gridiron. His BCC teammate, John Hayes, is also redshirting this season, looking to start making plays for ISU next season. During his senior season last year at BCC, Hayes caught 12 passes covering 223 yards, and scored three touchdowns. His longest catch was from 40 yards and he averaged almost 19 yards per game. He could come in handy on defense, too, if Spack and the Redbirds have a need. In his senior year at BCC, he made 25 solo tackles and shared in making 26 tackles on the season. He is credited with 12 sacks and forcing quarterbacks to hurry their throws nine times.

“Being a redshirt didn’t seem like a bad idea,” reasoned John Ridgeway, a Bloomington High grad who looks to be part of the Redbirds’ offensive line in 2018. “Doing this gives me a chance to know the plays better and to come back stronger next year.”

ISU Redbird HelmetUniversity High alum Austin Galindo is redshirting this year, as well. On the ISU roster, he’s a defensive lineman. He said he has been studying the playbook with guidance from his older teammates. He said he also realizes he will need to make on-field adjustments from what he was used to in high school once he hits the turf for the Redbirds.

Normal Community High School alum Garrett Hirsch is also redshirting, in the wings studying the role of offensive lineman, as it were. “Obviously, everybody strives to be a starter and be ‘the guy,’” he said of those wanting the nod from the coaching staff to take the field in a key situation. “But it’s a process and there’s a position battle going on” even as early as day two of training camp.

Hirsch said he’d like to try out for center and that after his redshirt period ends, he’d be studying the Redbirds’ playbook for the next four years. “It would be like a test that never ends,” he joked.

Normal West Alums Breen, Bumpus Prepare For Their Junior Year: Two Normal Community West High School products, Zach Breen and Cole Bumpus return for their junior seasons with the Redbirds. The 5 foot-10 Breen was a backup kicker/punter for Sean Slattery last season. In that role, “I got to learn a lot, and hopefully, can take what I’ve learned into this year.

Breen said punter Reese Attard, a native Australian who graduated in the spring, did teach him Rugby punts. Those include starting out by running as though you are rolling out to throw a pass. Kicking in that manner, Breen said, keeps defenders from getting to close to kickers compared to how close they might get to one who kicks in the traditional manner. “Rugby punts don’t involve as many steps,” Breen explained.

Younger guys are getting up to speed as camp opened, Breen added.

Bumpus, a defensive back, said one of his goals this season, is to “be a leader on special teams. Ultimately, as a team, our goal is to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship.”

Missouri Valley Football ConferenceBumpus said ISU having been the last team selected to get into the FCS Championship playoffs last season didn’t bother him. “Our being selected that far down only showed me the selection committee respected us because we were the only 6-5 team to get in. But it also showed me how strong the Valley is in terms of competition.”

As far as personal goals this season, Bumpus said, “I’m just going to put as much hard wo9rk in as I can and see where it takes me.”

This Is Lexington Native Hoselton’s Senior Year: ISU’s 2017 campaign is Lexington native and BCC product George Hoselton’s final season as a Redbird. “It’s crazy I’ve already been here 4 ½ years,” he said. He said his goals this final season are “more for the team than for myself.” He did say winning MVFC Championship was a top goal. That was followed by “taking care of the football more.”

Spack’s Record: As Spack begins his ninth season patrolling the sidelines in 2017, he carries into it a 62-35 record which includes four appearances in the FCS playoffs, with the farthest the Redbirds have soared in them is to lose in the championship game to North Dakota State in January 2015 to complete their 2014 season. ISU’s regular season conference record under Spack is 41-23.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU opens the season at home against non-conference visitor Butler on Saturday, Sept. 2, starting with a 6:30p.m. kickoff. MVFC season for ISU starts on the road at Missouri State on Sept. 23 with a 2p.m. contest. MVFC foe South Dakota State will be the opponent for the Redbirds’ Homecoming game on Oct. 21 at 2p.m.

By Steve Robinson | October 24, 2016 - 11:30 am
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – As Illinois State University’s men’s basketball team prepares for their 2016-17 season, the key word used is potential. Potential in hopes for a great season. Potential for more victories versus Missouri Valley Conference opponents. The potential to get to NCAA Tournament for the first time since Redbirds head coach Dan Muller led the team’s charge 18 years ago against Arizona.

Muller began his fifth season telling reporters his squad’s four seniors – guards Paris Lee and Tony Wills, and forwards Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh – will be the ones leading the charge and showing their younger teammates the way throughout the season.

“I really like this group a lot,” Muller told reporters on Media Day on Oct. 19 in the interview room at Redbird Arena. “We’ll see where that takes us, but so far in practice, they’ve been really fun to coach.”

Muller said he thought it was a fair assessment that the Redbirds, who finished last season in third place in MVC with an 18-14 overall record which included a conference finishing mark of 12-6, “will go as far as our seniors will take us.”

“Obviously, it will take more than just those four for us to attain the goals we have for our team,” Muller said. “But with their experience and their talent level, a lot of that will fall on them.”

“The good thing about those four is that they can handle it,” Muller said. He added the younger players on the squad will follow the lead of the veteran players.

ISU RedbirdThe Redbirds had been working on Doug Collins Court for two weeks already when Media Day came, and as you read this, the team is entering into the next phase of their work with practices in the next two weeks which will involve learning some fundamentals followed by inserting specific plays and strategies for game situations. Muller said that last aspect can, sometimes, be tricky for new players.

Muller said his two transfer players – junior Milik Yarborough from St. Louis and sophomore Christian Romine from University of Texas El Paso – won’t find not being in game situations a problem probably until mid-December, January, and February – the time when the Redbirds will face the heart of the conference schedule.

In the meantime, helping those two newcomers “by developing great relationships with them, helping them to understand and trust the coaches, and how hard we’re pushing them and help them understand how they can improve as players” becomes the main focus.

High Energy Wanted: Lee said Muller puts an emphasis on making sure players have high energy when the team practices. “My approach to games this season is to come out and be comfortable,” Lee said. “I’m taking things one game at a time. You don’t want to overlook any opponents.”

“I feel like we’ve got a group of guys who can come out here to compete against anybody in the country,” Lee said.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU opens the season at home on Sunday, Nov. 6 with an exhibition against Quincy with a 3p.m. start time. The Redbirds’ nonconference schedule will start with a road game at Murray State on Friday, Nov. 11, and the Redbirds’ first home game will be on Wednesday, Nov. 16 against Indiana Fort Wayne, starting with a 6p.m. tipoff. The Redbirds will say aloha to three games at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu where they will face Hawaii in their first game there Friday, Dec. 23. Upon returning home, Evansville will be the first MVC opponent to visit Redbird Arena this season on Thursday, Dec. 29, starting at 7p.m. The two-game rivalry with I-74 nemesis Bradley will play out starting with visiting Peoria’s Carver Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 18, starting at 8p.m. The Braves will visit Redbird Arena on Saturday, Feb. 11 starting at 9p.m.

By Steve Robinson | August 12, 2016 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Illinois State University’s Redbirds football squad was ranked 10th in a top 10 poll conducted for the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25 poll. To anybody who saw their victory march in the middle of the season over higher ranked Missouri Valley Football Conference foes like Youngstown State and Northern Iowa, all part of a 7-game winning streak during the regular season, fans might think that was rather low.

But the power conferences ruled the preseason Top 25 with the Colonial Athletic Association collecting six selections, and the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference gaining five apiece. Reigning FCS Champion North Dakota State enters the 2016 season as the FCS favorite. Having won an NCAA-record five straight national titles, the Bison earned 152 of the 158 first-place votes from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers.

As one might expect at this point in the year, with the 2016 season about to kick off with the Redbirds’ first home game at Hancock Stadium set for Saturday, Sept. 3 at 6p.m., the fans and the team are more interested in proving the pollsters wrong and moving up in those polls as quickly as possible.

Senior Linebacker Brent Spack Looks To Lead: Heading into his final season, senior linebacker Brent Spack said he is looking to be among those who will lead the younger Redbirds toward their future this season. “We have another good leader and senior, Alejandro Rivera next to me at linebacker, and he and I, we just want to lead our team and show everyone that we can win championships and will win championships.” The younger Spack said he will be stepping into the shoes of linebacker Pat Meehan, who was a senior last year. Meehan was the role model the younger Spack used for prepping for his senior season in terms of assuming leadership.

“In addition to winning the conference, and championship, is to lead the conference in defense, if not the nation,” Spack, a Normal Community High grad, said. “They’re big goals, but being a defensive player, I would really like to see that happen from our guys.” The younger Spack said he is considering graduate school and thinking about getting into coaching.

ISU Redbird HelmetBreen Ready For Sophomore Season: In the classroom, Zach Breen is a junior and ready to continue his studies. On the Hancock Field turf, since he redshirted, he is a sophomore, which means he was getting acclimated to college football life after having been kicker for Normal Community West High School . “I got in a couple games last season, so I got a little experience under my belt,” the 5 foot-10, 175 pounder said. “It’s been a lot of fun learning from the older guys.” He said coaching staff watching him on film and then providing a critique of his efforts has really helped him out since having been in actual game situations. His personal goal for this season includes trying to get on the field more than the two times he was able last year.

Hoselton Gets Sneak Peek At Opponents’ Playbooks: Lexington resident and Bloomington Central Catholic High alum George Hoselton found himself in a unique position on the squad last year. A junior this year, Hoselton found himself third string at his offensive line position, but that presented what some might consider an unusual opportunity. During Redbirds practices, Hoselton and some other third string players found themselves in the role of the opposition during practices, running opponents’ plays.

“Being an offensive lineman, our job is to give our defense a good look each week at the opponent we’re playing every upcoming week,” Hoselton said of the assignment. “It’s nice to know that in this role, I have a part in helping my team get better.” Hoselton has aspirations of advancing from third string, and the only way he can do that he said is continue working on his skills.

“No Issues” For Freshman Hirsch Learning Front Line Assignments: Freshman offensive lineman Garrett Hirsch credits Redbirds Offensive Line Coach Dan Clark with helping him and his new teammates to learn to overcome mental lapses in practice which could be costly during game situations. “The whole playbook is really, so much more advanced than it is in high school,” explained the 6 foot-2, 290 pound center from Towanda. “There are so many mental lapses that can occur because we are still learning plays. But Coach Clark is so good at his job that the others assigned to him and I have no real issues.”

Bumpus Knows Players Need To Show They’re Ready For Action: Cole Bumpus will academically be a junior when the fall term starts and besides his football duties, he is one of the few players who will also be a double major in Finance and Business Administration. A Bloomington resident, he played defensive back for Normal Community West High. The business world may be highly competitive, but that shouldn’t startle Bumpus who said he wants to compete on the field to get a shot at playing safety or cornerback for the Redbirds. Going into training camp, he’s third string at the positions. “You have to show the coaches you’re ready to slip into those positions” when called, Bumpus, now a junior, said.

Missouri Valley ConferenceU-High Alum Galindo Finds “There’s A Lot To Learn”: Freshman defensive end Austin Galindo admits “there is a lot to learn about the system he is about to play in at ISU. In his high school days, he was a defensive end and tight end at U-High. “I’m just going to try to learn from the older guys and try to get better at the position,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot to learn as a true freshman.” He said even though there were fans at U-High games all four years he played at Hancock Stadium, he said playing as a Redbird, with the stadium packed will be “even more special” when he gets his chance to play for ISU.

Central Catholic Alum Hayes Waiting His Turn: Normal resident and another BCC alum is of the understanding he won’t go from the sidelines to the turf in what is his freshman year this season. “I understand everyone’s got to wait their turn, and that I’ll be redshirting this year,” the 6 foot-4, 255 pound defensive lineman said. “I expected all of this to be different from what high school was.” Just because he won’t be in games doesn’t mean Hayes isn’t thinking ahead. He said his goals for this season include time in the weight room to help him get stronger and faster.

FootballNORMAL – When he played football for Washington Community High School, Christian Uphoff proved to be a young man of many skills: He could find himself playing any one of a number of positions and proving he could do them well: Cornerback, Safety, Wide Receiver, and Running Back were the positions his high school coach, Darrell Crouch would insert him in for battle depending upon the situation and opponent.

But now, as a freshman at Illinois State University, Uphoff is keenly aware his playing days will have to wait a little while until he sees action. Until head coach Brock Spack and his assistants find a role for Uphoff, he will continue to play the role of observer and continue doing what he has since coming here earlier this month: “Still getting the hang of things.”

ISU Redbird Helmet“I will continue doing that because, right now, I don’t want to go out onto the field and, you know, and be responsible for an opponent’s touchdown or something. I want to take my time and learn my position.”

His college coach, Illinois State University’s Brock Spack, entering his eighth season in 2016, had high praise for Uphoff at this early stage of his career. “He’s a very, very good athlete. His best football is ahead of him.”

“I like his length,” Spack said of the 190-pounder.”He’s a very, very good athlete. He’s played a lot of skilled positions at Washington. Right now, he’s not a very polished football player, but I think his best football is way ahead of him.”

‘Bird Ranked In Top 10: ISU was ranked in a top 10 poll having found themselves Redbirds were ranked No. 10 in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25. The power conferences ruled the preseason Top 25 with the Colonial Athletic Association collecting six selections, and the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference gaining five apiece. Reigning FCS Champion North Dakota State enters the 2016 season as the FCS favorite. Having won an NCAA-record five straight national titles, the Bison earned 152 of the 158 first-place votes from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers

Missouri Valley ConferenceJake Colby Gets QB Nod: Sophomore Jake Colby gets the nod from Spack as the Redbirds starting quarterback. The Naperville Central grad will find himself being defended by a front line that has youth on its side being around the same age as the quarterback. He will be passing to veteran receivers such as junior tight end Michael Clements and senior wide receiver Anthony Warrum.

Squib Kicks: ISU opens the season at home against non-conference visitor Valparaiso on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 6p.m. …..The Redbirds will take on Northwestern in Evanston in a non-conference contest on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2:30p.m. ….ISU will visit North Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 1 for a 2:30p.m. showdown……Youngstown State is the opponent when ISU celebrates Homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 8 with a 2p.m. game.

BasketballNORMAL – As his fourth season as Illinois State University’s head basketball coach begins, Dan Muller knows some adjustments will be necessary with graduations of players like Reggie Lynch. He also knows adjusting means veteran players like junior guard Paris Lee and senior guard DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell will need to step up their leadership roles as the 2015-16 season begins.

ISU got a head start on their bonding process as a team when they traveled to Spain for three games, winning two of them, in August. “Paris and DeVaughn have been terrific,” the fourth season coach said. He added that junior forward Nick Banyard “has shown leadership in a lot of ways. He’s won championships at New Mexico. He knows what it takes.”

“We expect everybody to be held accountable and we expect everybody to be a leader at times,” Muller explained of what he demands of his players this coming season. “DeVaughn and Paris have been our most consistent leaders, and that’s a good thing because they know what I want, and they want the best for the team.”

The biggest strength the team has which Muller and his players will turn into a theme for the season will concern its speed. That could be essential, not just for ISU, but for all teams as NCAA has shaved five seconds off the shot clock beginning this season, giving players 30 seconds to get down court and make baskets.

ISU Redbird“I think our speed and quickness at both ends of the court, and our ability to finish around the rim and make plays for each other is going to be a strength of ours,” Muller said. “I think our quickness with the dribble will be a strength of ours. I think our depth will be a strength.” Disadvantages the Redbirds face this coming season are seeing a lot of players step in to what could be, occasionally, unfamiliar roles.

The Redbirds, who finished 22-13 last season, including finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis in March after disposing of Evansville and 8th ranked Wichita State before dropping the league championship to 11th ranked Northern Iowa, were invited to the National Invitational Tournament. In the NIT, the Redbirds hosted and defeated visiting University of Green Bay in the opening round and lost their second round game on the road, finishing their season at Old Dominion.

“It’ll be interesting to see if, when the moment’s on and the lights are on, who’s not afraid of the moment,” Muller said.

Freshman center Daouda “David” Ndiaye said he enjoyed the team’s trip to Spain in August, which served as a warm-up exercise and as a team bonding experience. Ndiaye said the rules in Spain are a little different in terms of what is considered a traveling violation on the court there, but, he said, Muller and the coaching staff cautioned the team about that matter in advance.

Missouri Valley ConferenceAkoon-Purcell said his mindset from last season to this season has changed “to being more of an attack mode” as he prepares for the new season. Akoon-Purcell, who averaged 12.8 points per game and had a 77 percent free throw average last season. He added, “I relaxed a lot last year. But this season, knowing I have to lead the younger guys has changed my outlook.” He said watching the Redbirds lose the Missouri Valley Championship game to Northern Iowa altered his perspective.

Senior guard Justin McCloud is transferring into ISU from North Dakota’s Bismarck State College and said he is ready for the next step in his collegiate basketball career. He played football in high school in his hometown of Bottineau, N. D., but when he was ready to start college, he devoted his time to basketball.

Schedule Highlights:
ISU will play Southern Indiana University in an exhibition game at Redbird Arena on Sunday, Nov. 8. The regular season opens with ISU traveling to San Diego State on Friday, Nov. 13. The Redbirds will play in the Cancun Challenge beginning Thursday, Nov. 19 against South Dakota State. The Valley Season opens on Monday, Dec. 30 as ISU hosts Missouri State at 7p.m. ISU visits Bradley on Wednesday, Jan. 20, with the Braves visiting Redbird Arena on Valentine’s Day for a 3p.m. game.