Illinois' 'biggest loser' leads defense

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- It started out as a directive from the coaches but quickly turned into a spirited competition between Illinois players.

During the offseason, Illini strength coach Lou Hernandez instructed linebacker Brit Miller and several of his teammates to slim down to 240 pounds. Miller had swelled to 258 pounds following a foot injury and needed to drop weight before training camp. Inspired by the TV show "The Biggest Loser," Miller and the others initiated a competition to see who could reach 240 first.

Other competitors included fullback Rahkeem Smith, linebacker Sam Carson III and wide receiver Greg McClendon.

"Every day, there were weigh-in sessions, fighting weight," Miller said. "It kept the summer fun. We'd always try to get each other to go out to eat, and nobody would do it. They'd be like, 'Aw, I'm not going out to eat with you.' And there were guys trying to exercise at times when nobody would be in there. You'd catch guys doing some weird stuff."

So, who won?

"This guy right here, dude, the biggest loser," Miller said, raising his arms in victory. "I was the first to get to 240."

Miller's svelte frame will help him lead an Illini defense looking to replace All-American middle linebacker J Leman. After playing on the outside last year, Miller shifted over to the middle this spring. He recorded 62 tackles last year, a number that should increase in his new role.

The weight loss could present a problem in training camp, as Miller tries to retain his title as the team's best belly-flopper. A little history: Illinois trains in Rantoul, Ill., a rural town located about 15 miles north of Champaign, and the team practices next to a water park. The players head there during the third week of workouts for the annual competition.

"There's no trees or anything," Miller said. "It's us getting just murdered and mauled every day and then all these kids having a lot of fun at the pool 100 yards away. It's that tempting thing, like, 'Don't cross the gun line' from the movie 'Life.' That's the gun line for us right there. Somebody breaks, they're just gonna be swimming in their pads, like, 'I can't take it, coach.'"

Miller has won the belly-flop competition the last two years and is planning something special this year.

"If done correctly, my back won't even get wet," he said. "Just hit the water and stay on the top."

Could his new lack of padding hurt his chances?

"Dude, I can still throw it down," Miller said. "One time I lost like 35 pounds in college, on purpose, too, and I still had a belly. The belly goes nowhere, just everything else."