With a trip to Champaign, Ill. quickly approaching, Bill O’Brien is keeping his lips sealed on his thoughts about Illinois sending coaches to State College just days after the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State.
“As far as the recruitment of our players and things like that, that's something I'm going to keep to myself,” O’Brien said at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
On Monday, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman stood by his decision to recruit Penn State players after the sanctions. He sent coaches to town, but not on campus, and everything he and his staff did was fair game set up by NCAA guidelines.
O’Brien answered a few questions about the recruitment of his players by another Big Ten team, but he kept the attention on issues on the gridiron. Saturday’s contest will mark the conference opener for both teams.
The first-year coach was also pretty quiet about the issue when he talked about it days after it happened at Big Ten Media Day. On Tuesday, he said it takes a lot to bother him, and he and his staff are worried about the upcoming week of practice.
“The biggest thing is that this is our first Big Ten game,” O’Brien said. “Our players are very focused on the Big Ten schedule. I believe that our players are really focused this week on building on what they did well in the Temple game and improving in areas where we really need to improve.”
Like their coach, Nittany Lion players downplayed the effect of what happened in July in relation to this week’s game.
“I think we were only mad about it when it happened. I think we’ve gotten over it,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “We don’t care too much about it, it wasn’t like they were the only people that were trying to contact us.”
Offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki — who landed at Illinois — was one of nine Penn State players to transfer after the sanctions and was the only one to stay in the Big Ten. Though he hasn’t played a snap this season, Nowicki is eligible and could play against his former teammates this weekend.
As far as senior fullback Michael Zordich is concerned, it doesn’t matter who is lined up across from the Lions on Saturday, or what happened in the past.
“If some guys use it as motivation, they use it as motivation,” Zordich said. “As a team, we’re all just looking at this as the Big Ten opener, what we’re working for.”
O’Brien said he anticipates injured running back Bill Belton will be back for Saturday’s game after missing three weeks with an ankle injury. The coach also noted tailbacks Derek Day, Curtis Dukes and Zordich are all healthy and made it seem like each will be ready to go against the Fighting Illini.
Rounding up the injury news, O’Brien said defensive end Sean Stanley — who didn’t play against Temple as he was nursing a back injury — is probable for Saturday, while defensive end Pete Massaro probably will not be available. On this week’s injury report, offensive tackle Donovan Smith (ankle) was listed as “probable.”