Daily Egyptian

Hill discusses spring practice, announces Du Quoin scrimmage

SIU football coach Nick Hill talks to reporters March 17 in Tedrick Auditorium. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

SIU football coach Nick Hill talks to reporters March 17 in Tedrick Auditorium. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

Saluki football coach Nick Hill announced Wednesday that his team will play a scrimmage April 1 at Du Quoin High School in an effort to connect with southern Illinoisans. 

Hill also answered questions about his team’s progress, the upcoming quarterback battle and how the team’s defense will look moving forward.

Friday Night Lights

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The Du Quoin scrimmage will be the first in a series Hill has called “Friday Night Lights.”

April 1 will mark the first time in program history that a scrimmage has been held off campus.

Hill played quarterback at Du Quoin High School  before coming to SIU and his brother is the head coach of the school’s football team. 

“Friday Night Lights is something I always thought would be a cool idea here in southern Illinois as really taking the team to the people,” he said. “Hopefully in years to come, this is something that will spread and we’ll be able to do a few more, maybe all of our scrimmages, off-site.”

Fans can expect to see 100 to 125 plays and players will be available for autographs as well.

The scrimmage serves as part of the Du Quoin native’s initiative to reconnect the team with surrounding communities.

Saluki football players have logged more than 210 hours of community service since Hill took over Dec. 23 notably with the Read Across America program and the Souper Bowl for Hunger food drive.

“We’re always going to be like that,” Hill said. “That was an emphasis when I got the job — that’s what’s going to bring excitement, that’s what’s going to get people to know our players without their helmet on. We’re always going to be out in the community.”

The team also has more community events planed for the future, including a visit with miners at Knight Hawk Coal in Percy on April 29.

“I want southern Illinois to know this is their team, just as much as it’s mine or any of these coaches,” he said. “That’s why I want the players out there in the community.” 

Competition for quarterbacks 

With Mark Iannotti’s graduation, there is an opening at the helm of the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s top offense.

There are five candidates for the job: true freshman Jhakari Harrison, redshirt freshman Tanner Hearn, sophomore Sam Straub, sophomore Matt DeSomer, who has played wide receiver for the Dawgs, and fifth-year graduate transfer Josh Straughan.

Straub is the only player with experience in a Saluki uniform, completing one pass for 12 yards last year against Missouri State.

Straughan played in 24 games at Division II Stillman College, completing 468 passes for 5,470 yards and 53 touchdowns.

Hill said there would be an open competition for the starting job and everyone will get equal reps with the rest of the starters in spring practices.

Last year’s competition between Iannotti and Straub will set a precedent for this year’s camp. Iannotti wasn’t selected as the starter until fall.

“They got to see what a good quarterback room looks like,” Hill said. “Supporting each other, competing against each other, you want each other’s jobs but we’re going to be men about it. We’re going to help each other out in the film room, and the best player will play.”

Even with Straughan only having one year of eligibility remaining, Hill said there’s no extra pressure to play him over the other quarterbacks.

“He came here to play and he’ll get that opportunity but so will everybody else,” he said. “I told him that when I recruited him: ‘If you think you’re coming here and you’re going to have one handed to you, you probably should pick some of those other schools that offered [a scholarship to] you.'”

A former SIU quarterback himself, Hill said leadership is the most important trait for a potential starter to have. 

“You always hear they don’t want to get labeled as a ‘game manager’ — I want to see someone who does that, to me that’s a compliment,” he said. “They have to be able to take care of the ball, they have be able to get us into the right plays. So much of our stuff is put on the quarterback to get us in and out and make decisions.”

Other offensive competitions

Most of the rest of the Saluki offense returns this season for Hill, who served as the team’s co-offensive coordinator in 2015.

Three of the top four wide receivers last year are coming back and the fourth, Israel Lamprakes is petitioning for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after missing most of his first three seasons  because of injury.

“I’m excited about our receivers,” Hill said. “I feel like we have as good as receivers as anyone in the country. [Junior] Connor Iwema was maybe the best and he didn’t even get started last season. He started the first three or four games then tore his shoulder up. We’re excited to see what Connor can do.”

Hill also said any freshmen that performed well in practice would play as well.

The running back unit returns every player from last year’s squad, including 2015 MVFC All-Newcomer team member, sophomore Daquan Isom. He ran for 548 yards and four touchdowns last season, while adding 408 yards and four touchdowns receiving.

The defensive conversion 

Under new defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson, this year’s defense will switch to a 4-3 base set after playing a 3-4 under previous coordinator David Elson.

Last year’s defense allowed a MVFC second-worst 467.7 yards per game.

As for the transition, players have seen the new defense and met with coaches about the new terminology.

“They’ll look a little bit different,” Hill said. “We felt like we have enough [players] to make the switch now, and then the way we recruited with our young guys, a lot of those guys will fit good to a 4-3 scheme.”

Hill was especially complimentary of senior linebacker Chase Allen who ranked 15th in the country in tackles with 120 in 2015.

“I feel like Allen is the best linebacker in the country,” he said of the 240-pound Allen. “He’s the type of kid that can be a first-team All-American. He’s as athletic as they come. If we lined up and ran 40 [yard dashes], he’s probably our fastest kid on our team.”

Hill also said senior defensive tackle T.J. Beelen and sophomore defensive end Nate Sylvester, who both had their seasons cut short in 2015 because of injury, will be able to practice at some point during spring ball.

Spring practice 

Spring practices begin Monday and will be 6 to 8 a.m. every Monday and Wednesday and select Fridays at Saluki Stadium. Practices are open to the public. 

In addition to the scrimmage in Du Quoin, there will be another scrimmage at 6 p.m. April 8 at Saluki Stadium.

The annual Spring Game will be 2 p.m. April 23 at Saluki Stadium.

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307.

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