Illinois notebook: Coach Dave Jacobs 'having a blast'

John Supinie

It would be easy to look over his shoulder and think what might have been. Instead, former Rochester High School football coach Dave Jacobs ponders what still could be.

Forced out after compiling a 21-27 record and three playoff appearances in five seasons as football coach at Champaign Central in April, Jacobs answered the call from Illinois coach Ron Zook, who offered a volunteer coaching position this fall.

"I'm having a blast,'' Jacobs said. "This is one of the best things that happened to me in my career. I've been coaching for 23 years at the high school level, 18 as a head coach. The way things happened and coach Zook reaching out to me and providing this opportunity, I couldn't be in a better position.''

Jacobs, 45, served as head coach at New Berlin and Illiopolis before starting the program at Rochester in 1995. After one junior-varsity only season, Jacobs guided Rochester to seven wins in the first four seasons of varsity football. In the next five years, Rochester won 36 games and qualified for the state football playoffs in every season.

Instead of staying in the growing community with the program on solid footing, Jacobs took the job at Champaign Central, where the split occurred this summer because of "irreconcilable differences,'' he said.

This fall, Rochester begins its first season in a bigger weight class in the Central State Eight Conference with the Springfield schools -- Springfield, Sacred Heart-Griffin, Lanphier, Southeast -- plus Chatham Glenwood, Jacksonville, Lincoln and Taylorville.

"I'm not going to look back,'' Jacobs said. "I'm looking forward. If I was still in Rochester, I wouldn't have this opportunity. I'm really proud of waht we did at Rochester. After 10 years, I'm going to go and face new challenges. Champaign Central was a different kind of place.''

At Illinois, Jacobs serves as an offensive assistant. He grades practice. Jacobs gets into the huddles and works with offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. Every play in practice is scripted, but Jacobs "hears the play, sees the play and then gets to grade the play,'' he said. "I'm constantly learning, and hopefully I'll be more helpful.''

Jacobs will work with Petrino in the coach's box on game day, but, he said with a chuckle, he's not sure if Petrino will give him a headset. After the season, Jacobs will decide upon his options. He still teaches at Champaign Central, but Jacobs already was a finalist for a head coaching position in the western Chicago suburbs this summer.

Zook knew how it felt to lose a job, so he made the call to Jacobs.

"I wanted to let him know this happens to an awful lot of good football coaches,'' Zook said.

Jacobs hasn't ruled out chasing opportunities at the college level.

"I'm just going to enjoy the next four months, learn and do as much as I can and see what's next,'' he said. "Family is it for me. I've been married for 21 years and we have three kids. Whatever gig I get next, it's going to be family friendly, and I want to make sure I work with good people.''

GOLF: Former Illini star Steve Stricker enters the Fed Ex Cup playoffs at the Barclays on Thursday ranked No. 2 in the Fed Ex points and No. 4 in the world. A tournament victory would give him a chance to move to No. 1 in the world rankings.

Not bad for a guy who lost his tour card in 2004 before twice earning PGA comeback player of the year.

"It's possible if I go ahead and win one of these tournaments, and the scenarios play out,'' Stricker said. "I'm not worried about it. I'm just worried about playing good golf, getting my game where it should be doing the things I've done over the years.

"About six years ago, I was wondering if I would play the game very much longer with the way I was hitting. All this is icing on the cake if I make it to No. 1.''

A two-time winner this year just short of $3.2 million in earnings, Stricker returned to campus over the weekend for his annual fundraiser for the Illini golf team, and he genuinely enjoys his time at the school that gave the Edgerton, Wis., native a start. Stricker spent time with the Illini and got reacquainted with NCAA champ Scott Langley. Stricker and Langley played a practice round prior to the U.S. Open.

This fall, Stricker will play as a member of the U.S. team in the Ryder Cup, a slot he earned through Ryder Cup points after receiving a captain's selection in 2008.

"It's nice to play my own way on there,'' he said. "I was a captain's pick at Valhalla. It's nice to earn my way on there. I've played solidly over the last couple of years.''

IN OTHER NEWS: Sophomore safety Walt Aikens didn't practice with the Illini football team Monday after missing the scrimmage Saturday. After serving a 14-day jail sentence on a misdemeanor theft charge this summer, his status is unclear. ... The Illinois football team meets the public during Fan Appreciation Day Saturday at Memorial Stadium from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. The players and coaching staff are available for pictures and autographs. The Illini will go through "game-day rehersal'' from 9:30 a.m. to 11:15. Parking and admission is free. ... Illinois basketball assistant coach Jerrance Howard and his wife, Jessica, celebrated the birth of their daughter. The Howards also have a son.

John Supinie can be reached at