Then reports came from multiple sources that he had ballooned up to twenty pounds above his playing weight. Those rumors turned out to be, well, rumors, but he still hadn't had much of a workload in the young season for the Orange and Blue-amassing only 8 carries after the first three games.
But Belleville Althoff alum and Illini freshman running back Jason Ford is just happy to finally be on the stat sheets with a touchdown and some big carries after #22 Illinois' first conference game, a 38-24 loss to #12 Penn State.
His stat line-4 carries for 11 yards on the ground and a 1-yard touchdown-may not be very eye-popping to some. But the critical points in the game that Ron Zook trusted this true freshman with football should speak volumes.
Ford was surprised himself.
"I just expected to get a couple of carries but I liked that I got a lot of plays and in a big game like that," Ford said. " (It will) get me good experience for the later years."
Ford may be looking to the future, but his workload from the game on Saturday shows that the Illini coaches are concerned about the here and now. And even with the disappointment of a loss like Saturday's, one could tell when looking in his eyes that he feels he now belongs after notching up his first score.
"It felt good, I was just so excited I didn't know what to do," Ford said. "But I'm glad I got to get in and make a big play, help the team out a little bit."
Helping the team is exactly what Ford will keep doing if he can become another dependable back that the Orange and Blue can count on heading into a stretch of three Big Ten games that didn't seem too daunting when the schedule was released, but now become must-wins for a 2-2 team hoping for a major bowl berth.
"An Eerie Good Feeling"
Coming off a Rose Bowl season in 2007, many Illini fans didn't expect the Orange and Blue to drop to 2-2 after the first four games. And, granted, the two loses have come to very formidable opponents, but it seems uncanny that everyone involved with the Illini seems to be okay with the team's performance in the 2008 campaign even when a lot of fans have hit the panic button.
Everyone seemed to touch on this peculiar easiness after Saturday night's game.
Head coach Ron Zook: "I don't know, (but) for some crazy reason I've got a, I guess a good feeling, if that's possible. I mean I don't know what the right word is butwe'r e gonna be fine."
Junior cornerback Vontae Davis: "You look at it, it's wide open for college football. The top dogs are going down: USC (losing to Oregon State on Thursday), Georgia lost today. So, if you ask me, I'm thinking we still in the race. Remember we lost four games last year and still went to the Rose Bowl. It's a learning experience; we've just got to go clean up because that's a pretty good team"
Senior linebacker Brit Miller: "We're close. You know we've got two losses, and a lot of teams that played haven't played the caliber of teams we have. You know that's going to help us in the long run. (Some) teams are 5-0 or whatever they are right now and they haven't been tested so, come that time when we play a lot of teams we're going to have a little bit of experience in close games and good atmospheres and things like thatthat will help us out in the end."
Sophomore wide receiver Arrelious Benn: " I'm gonna give them some credit but I felt as though we were the better team. We should've won that game."
Illini quck hits
Just some quick news and notes from Saturday's game: Freshman Jeff Allen started at right tackle for the Illini, making him the first true freshman to start on the offensive line for the Orange and Blue since 1997The Illini's first touchdown marked the first points the Nittany Lions had allowed in the first quarter all seasonIllinois killed a crucial second quarter drive with two consecutive holding penalties that nullified two consecutive first downsThe Illini ultimately racked up five penalties for 40 yards.