Illinois notebook: Williams brings physical running style to QB

John Supinie

A hard-running option quarterback, Illinois junior quarterback Juice Williams is one big reason why the Illini led the Big Ten Conference in rushing for the past two seasons.

The 6-foot-2, 233-pounder is hard to bring down (see Ohio State game, 2007), and with his physical running he's often giving out the hits rather than taking them. If he needed any reminders of his style, Williams found it last year in the season opener against Missouri.

In the second quarter, he was knocked out of the game on a hit by defensive back Hardy Ricks. Rather than charging ahead for more yards on the play, Williams attempted to drop to the turf to avoid a hit.

"I came around the corner,'' said Williams before No. 20 Illinois met No. 6 Missouri at the Edward Jones Dome on Saturday. "Instead of finishing the run, I started sliding a little bit. I kind of learned my lesson. Coach said to run physically. If you start running hard and breaking tackles, it really pays off.''

The contact -- which Williams called "helmet to helmet'' that should have resulted in a penalty -- left him with a head injury and forced redshirt freshman Eddie McGee into his first playing time. While McGee attempted to rally the Illini from a 37-13 deficit, Williams stood on the sidelines and watched as Missouri held on for the 40-34 victory.

"It's always tough watching your teammates go out there and not win games, knowing you might have been able to do something to change the outcome,'' Williams said. "I've not been on the sidelines for an entire game. That's pretty difficult. It was a learning experience for myself. Eddie did a good job. He almost led the team back.''

Later last season, McGee again subbed for Williams, who left the game with a knee injury against Penn State after another hard hit.


Williams also worked on his passing and leadership skills with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, a former Chicago Mount Carmel star. Williams spent time with McNabb in Phoenix.

"I was able to go out there and work with him for a week. We talked about being a quarterback rather than just a thrower. He told me to have fun with the game. Football is a sport. You can't live and die with football, continue to keep a smile on my face.''

Recruiting battle

The St. Louis area is part of Illinois coach Ron Zook's home turf when it comes to recruiting.

"We said from the very beginning that St. Louis is an in-state area for us,'' Zook said. "It has to be.''

That makes the Illinois-Missouri game a recruiting battle as much as a border war. The Illini and Tigers annually fight over players in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Since Zook arrived, the teams are 2-2 in head-to-head battles over recruits.

The Illini landed sophomore defensive end Jerry Brown from St. Louis Vashon and freshman tight end London Davis from Cahokia, with Missouri getting sophomore receiver Jeremy Maclin from Kirkwood, Mo., and freshman wide receiver Wes Kemp from St. Louis DeSmet.

"We've got a couple guys out of there on the Illinois side,'' said recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell. "We need to get going on the Missouri side.''

Illinois and Missouri are recruiting St. Louis University High running back Ronnie Wingo Jr., who is ranked as the No. 67 recruit overall among high school seniors by Wingo is the No. 2 rated athlete in the class, although the Illini already have a commitment from running back Bud Golden of Cincinnati.

The Illini have commitments from Nathan Scheelhaase, a four-star quarterback from Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst, plus East St. Louis receivers Terry Hawthorne and Kraig Appleton and defensive back Tommie Hopkins.


Scheelhaase and Rockhurt meet Blue Springs (Mo.) South and Missouri quarterback recruit Blaine Dalton on Sunday (11 a.m., ESPN). …

Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber attended the game. It was his first trip to the dome since the Illini played in the Final Four in 2005. …

John Supinie can be reached at