Indiana Daily Student

Expectations are high for this year's Fighting Illini

Harvey and Kittner look to lead Illinois after

Rausell "Rocky" Harvey ran for 2,500 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior in high school and blew up in his second Illinois football game for 215 yards and three touchdowns. But is was not until his 17th collegiate contest against Michigan last season that the 5-foot-9, 215-pounder gain respect from his critics.\nAt Dunbar High School, Harvey easily tore up his competition, averaging 15 yards a carry his senior year. But because he played in the Chicago Public League ' a conference known for its basketball rather than football ' people believed the halfback only dominated because of his weak competition.\nHis freshman season at Illinois, Harvey opened some of the doubters' eyes. But after struggling in the early going of his sophomore season, Harvey found his carries diminishing by the game. A week before the Michigan game, Harvey carried the ball once for no yards against Minnesota.\nAgainst Michigan, Illinois trailed 20-7 at halftime, so coach Ron Turner subbed in Harvey to add more speed on the field. The move paid off in the fourth quarter, when Harvey gave the Illini a 28-27 lead as he caught a short pass and made it into 59-yard touchdown. Shortly after, Harvey sealed the victory with a 54-yard endzone run against the then-No. 9 Wolverines.\n"The Michigan game came, and they gave me the opportunity and I succeeded and excelled and came out on top," Harvey said. "People were saying I was too small and that I couldn't play Division I football, so I just wanted to get out there and prove them wrong, by showing them that it's not how big your are, but how big your heart is."\n The win not only gave Harvey extra confidence as he went on to rush for an average of 98.6 yards for the rest of the season, but also started a positive snowball effect for the Illini program. The end result was a 63-21 victory against Virginia in the Micronpc.com Bowl, which was Illinois' first bowl in five years.\n This season, Harvey and Illinois are not underdogs anymore as the stakes have been raised, but Turner said winning has its perks.\n"We're winning, and everything seems a lot nicer, and things start to taste better," Turner said. \"When I went through towns a couple years ago, people would look away in grocery stores hoping I didn't say anything to him. Now, things are easier. I'd go walking through the streets and the farm and even the horses, cows and pigs looked away, but now they come up to the fence as I walk by."\nExpectations are high because Illinois returns nine of its offensive starters from a year ago. Led by junior quarterback Kurt Kittner, Illinois' offense became the highest scoring offense in school history, recording 388 points in 12 games. With 2,702 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions, Kittner ranked second in all three categories in the Big Ten. \nSophomore Brandon Lloyd, who is also a track star, was expected to be Kittner's No. 1 receiver as he caught 30 passes for 511 yards last season. But Lloyd suffered a broken femur in the offseason and will miss the entire 2000 season. Sophomore Walter Young, sophomore Aaron Moorehead and freshman Eric McGoey will need to improve for Kittner to have another stellar season. \nGiving Kittner time to pass the ball and room for Harvey to run will be an experienced offensive line, led by left tackle Marques Sullivan, who is a preseason All-American. Returnees include right guard Ray Redziniak, center Luke Butkus, left guard Jay Kulaga and right tackle Tony Pashos.\nOn the other side of the ball, Illinois has only four returning starters, but Turner is not worried. Most of the new starters did see some playing time over the last few years.\nReturning will be defensive end Fred Wakefield, defensive tackle Brandon Moore, safety Muhammad Abdullah and linebacker Michael Young. Returning nonstarters who have experience will be defensive tackle Jason Eberhart, cornerback Trayvon Waller, safety Bobby Jackson, senior linebacker Mondrian Long, senior defensive end Terrell Washington and senior linebacker Robert Franklin. Sophomore cornerback Eugene Wilson, who returned punts last season for the Illini, is also expected to start on defense.\n"The expectations on football right now are very high and we're looking for some big things," Turner said. "The guys are feeling good where we are right now and the steps that are being taken. We're focusing and progressing this year and that's all we talk about"

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