Illini splash their way through camp

August, 13, 2008
8/13/08
8:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

RANTOUL, Ill. -- The two teenage girls on lifeguard duty Wednesday at the Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center stood absolutely no chance.

As approximately 100 half-naked Illinois football players converged on the water park just northwest of the team's practice fields, the poor souls in charge of policing the facility could only stand aside. Think of a kicker and a punter trying to bust a wedge of defensive tackles.

I had heard about Illinois' annual water park outing at Big Ten media days from senior linebacker Brit Miller, who vowed to reclaim his title in the belly-flop competition this summer. The Camp Rantoul tradition typically takes place later this month, but by a stroke of luck, I was here on the big day.

I arrived at the park just in time to see 30-40 players zoom down a water slide in rapid-fire fashion. The wait time between slides was, oh, 1.5 seconds. It was like a traffic jam of bison, except 40 feet in the sky. The players went to the park immediately after practice, and freshman defensive end Reggie Ellis went down the slide with his ankles still taped.

The assistant coaches sat pool-side, praying for no injuries. Some surely held their breath as starting quarterback Juice Williams went down the slide head first. Several players used props during their slides -- the lifeguard's rescue tube, a volleyball -- but kicker Matt Eller got the prize for degree of difficulty, going down on a makeshift surfboard. Kickers.

An assistant told Eller not to repeat the surf slide, but moments later co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch shouted, "Eller! I didn't get to see it! Do it again!"

Miller allegedly did a belly-flop, though I never saw it. He did execute a nice backflip in the diving pool adjacent to the slides. And he wore sunglasses in the pool, which was cool. The best dive came from wide receiver Chris Duvalt, who did a front one-and-a-half flip -- with his clothes on.

Several players tried another water slide, a spiral-looking thing, but they stopped on one of the turns and had to walk down. Pretty funny.

I watched most of the festivities with head coach Ron Zook, who surprisingly didn't seem too concerned about injuries. "We've got a bunch of knuckleheads, but they're good kids," he said.

The water park trip capped an entertaining day with the Illini. Zook told me the setup at Camp Rantoul -- located about 15 miles from Illinois' campus -- functions better than any of the NFL training camps he attended while serving as an assistant with the Saints, Chiefs and Steelers.

It's too bad more college teams don't train off campus. Then again, our water parks and lifeguards might be better off.

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