The Lost Interviews
So I have this app on my phone that I've used to record interviews for the past 10 years (AudioBoom). In January, they discontinued the ability to record and publish audio from the app. I forgot that. So I recorded two great interviews which are now lost. They're "on" my phone - I just can't listen to them, download them, or do anything else with them.
But since I'm not a journalist, I CAN paraphrase them. At least I think I can. Is it OK to write about an interview from memory? It's not? It breaks every single journalistic creed? Good thing I'm not a journalist then.
First I talked to Milo Eifler, the linebacker transfer from Washington. I started with standard questions ("How hard was it to sit out last year and not play football?"), and as he answered, he dropped a nugget that made me interrupt his long answer. The nugget: he didn't play football until his junior year of high school. And he blew up as a recruit before he had ever played a single game of football.
See why I'm so mad that these interviews can't be re-played?
Here's how he told the story: he originally wanted to play basketball at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. Basketball wasn't working out, so during his sophomore year of high school, the football coach convinced him he should come out for football the next year. That football coach was some guy named Hardy Nickerson who would later go on to become (and then not become) the defensive coordinator at Illinois. Nickerson convinced him to join the team, but it was Napoleon Kauffman who coached Eifler in high school (Nickerson left to join Lovie in Tampa as his linebackers coach).
So Eifler decides to give football a shot. He attends offseason training with the football team and goes to a Nike camp that summer. At the Nike camps, they do NFL Combine-like workouts (40-yard dash, shuttle drill, all of those) and grade the players like they're grading NFL players. The highest rated linebacker at this regional camp in California? The player with the best combined scores? Milo Eifler.
It was here that he paused to tell a story about how he didn't really know which position to put down on his form (they ran all the defensive backs through the drills, then the linebackers, and so on). Why didn't he know what to put? He had never played football before. He was originally going to put "safety", but decided to go with "linebacker" instead.
So now, the summer before his junior year, because he had the best "combine" numbers at this camp, he starts getting recruited. I paused him here to verify - "you're getting recruited to play college football and you had never played a single snap in a real game in your life?" - and he said yes. He talked about how much of a whirlwind it was - he's playing in football games for the first time that fall, trying to figure out how to play the sport, and he gets home and his mailbox is filling with letters from college coaches, all based on his showing at this Nike camp. He said he and his parents googled how it all worked and landed on pages like "College Football Recruiting 101".
He started getting offers that fall - his 247 profile confirms that Duke was his first offer that October (just think of how insane that is for someone who started playing football in September). His profile also lists an unofficial visit to Washington that August (before his first-ever football game), and a year later, in July (after he had been rated a 4-star linebacker), he chose Washington. After two years there, he transferred to Illinois, sat out last season, and is ready to contribute this fall.
I'm still kind of reeling from this story. I mean, just think about that unofficial visit to Washington in the summer of 2014. He's never played a snap, and here he is, getting a tour of the locker room at Washington. Crazy.
After talking to Eifler, I had a great 10-minute chat with Mike Bellamy. I would play the interview for you, but, you know, I'm dumb. So I'll just (carefully) go back through what he said.
The main thing I wanted to talk to him about: How does he, both in recruiting and when meeting with the players, talk about his days playing here? He was here with the program was on top. I've written this many times, but just before I got to Illinois, let's say 1988-1990, Illinois was a top-5 program in the Big Ten, battling with Iowa and Michigan State for the #3 spot. Wisconsin was horrific, Northwestern didn't try, Purdue was bad, Minnesota was bad - it was Michigan and Ohio State (duh) and then either Illinois, Iowa, or MSU (with Indiana, honestly, not too far behind).
This question got him going. I got his recruiting pitch. He talked about how we had Butkus Award finalists five years in a row. How we had a #1 overall pick (Jeff George), a #2 overall pick (Kevin Hardy), and a #3 overall pick (Simeon Rice). And how we had so many other players back then who were Big Ten superstars. He started throwing out names and I started to get excited. I mean, I feel like no one remembers these names anymore (and the young kids don't know them), and they were the keys to making us that top-5 program in the conference. He tossed out names like:
- Henry Jones. Maybe the least-mentioned Illini first round draft pick and I have no idea why. Picked by Buffalo, went on to have a long 12-year NFL career as a safety for the Bills, Vikings, and Falcons.
- Darrick Brownlow. During his pitch, Bellamy mentioned how Brownlow was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. For some reason, I had totally forgotten that. 1990 Big Ten DPOY, and then a 5th round pick by the Cowboys that spring.
- Moe Gardner. Two-time All American at defensive tackle. (Yes, it's been eight years since we had an All American - Whitney Mercilus - and Moe Gardner pulled it off back-to-back.)
The stats just flowed from off the top of his head. I believe he said Illinois had 11 players at the 1991 NFL Combine (six were drafted). And he didn't even toot his own horn (2nd-round pick by the Eagles in 1990, the year that Jeff George went #1 overall). Those were truly the days.
And his focus, now that he's back, is to get us back there. Talent was flowing into the program in 1990 and it must flow into the program again. I mean, I know I'm a little biased, but I'm buying his pitch.
Again, sorry I'm an idiot and recorded these interviews in a way that they couldn't be played. Hope I didn't break too many rules by transcribing them from memory. But before I could sit down and write out my practice thoughts (which I'll start tonight but probably finish in the morning), I had to write out as much as I could remember. A linebacker who was recruited before he played football and an assistant coach who is back in town to bring back 1989.