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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Illinois springs forward after learning experience

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois did a lot of learning last fall, even if it didn't do a lot of winning.

"I learned an awful lot last year," head coach Ron Zook said Tuesday morning. "Our coaches learned an awful lot last year. More importantly, our players learned an awful lot last year."

Zook hopes the learning experience pays off for the Fighting Illini in spring practice, which opens this afternoon in Champaign. The team comes off an extremely disappointing 5-7 season, one that began with a top-20 ranking and tons of national buzz following a run to the Rose Bowl.

Illinois returns the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback (Juice Williams), its most NFL-ready wide receiver (Arrelious Benn) and talented players at other spots, but Zook doesn't take much for granted after last season, where the team won consecutive games only once. Team chemistry wasn't a strong suit for Illinois in 2008, but Zook already has seen major progress in that department.

"This is a team," he said. "These guys are all excited about the University of Illinois football program. ... We all learned an awful lot last year. We got away from what's important. We started worrying about winning instead of letting the wins and losses take care of themselves.

"They're excited about being type of team they know they can be."

Here are some other nuggets from Zook's pre-spring news conference.