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Washington product lining up for Illinois State
Underwood gets head start on college game with Redbirds football team
The scenery on the 35-or-so-mile trip from Washington to Normal doesn’t change a great deal.
But once in Normal things are as different as the grass and chalked Babcook Field versus the turf and paint of Illinois State’s Hancock Stadium. The latter, of course, being the new digs for former Panthers standout Colton Underwood.
“In high school, I didn’t have to worry about keeping my feet square and stuff. I could just run around somebody. Or, run through somebody,” Underwood said at Monday’s media day for the ISU football program. “Here, I don’t have the advantage of doing that. I have to keep my feet up the field, running square, or I could be laying my back, looking up.”
So it goes, just three days into fall camp for the reigning Journal Star Large-School Football Player of the Year.
And while it may not be plausible for some former Mid-Illini Conference foes to imagine Underwood being knocked on his back by anyone, it’s just part of a learning process.
“The biggest difference is the speed, the tempo of the game,” said Underwood, whose family could well be called the first family of Illinois State athletics. His father and grandfather played football for the Redbirds. And his mother played volleyball at ISU.
Colton Underwood spent the summer on campus. He took two classes to help get acclimated to college and spent time learning the proper things to do in the weight room.
“Worked a lot on technique … before they attempt to make us bigger and stronger,” Underwood said. “We also did a lot of film work, something you don’t do much of in high school.”
Fall camp opened Aug. 7. The first day in pads is Wednesday, with the fall scrimmage game schedule for Aug. 21.
Underwood is listed third on the depth chart for the Redbirds. He’s hoping to be part of an eight-man, defensive-line rotation commonly used by colleges today as opposed to the popular spread offense.
“Right now, I’m just trying to work myself into the lineup,” said Underwood, who is getting reps at defensive end. “Coach Nowinsky, the D-line coach, plays a lot of people … just trying to work myself into lineup, even if it’s in a passing downs or something like that.”
Said defensive line coach Spence Nowinsky, “(Underwood) was everything we look for in a high school football player. Is going to play this year? Hard to say right now. But with everything he’s done — not just physically but mentally — he’s going to be a really good player.”
Underwood should be part of a pretty good football program as well. The Redbirds return 18 starters, nine on each side of the ball.
The offensive line returns intact.
“The O-line is the backbone of a program,” second-year head coach Brock Spack said. “It all begins with them.”
Spack is watching a two, if not a three-horse race for quarterback.
Last year’s Missouri Valley Football Conference freshman of the year Matt Brown returns and appears to be the front-runner with junior Drew Kiel close behind. Kiel was the opening-game starter a year ago, but suffered a season-ending wrist injury in that contest.
Sophomore Matt Lancaster looks to be in the mix as well. He appeared in five games and threw and eight-yard touchdown pass with 0.6 seconds left as the Redbird upset No. 9 Northern Iowa, 22-20.
But defense could be what ISU hangs it helmet this year, in particular the defensive line.
“I like them. I like them a lot. A very formidable group. It’s a front four that could play in the league I came from,” said Spack, who came to ISU from Big Ten country at Purdue.
Illinois State opens the season with a 6:30 p.m. home game against Central Missouri State on Sept. 2. The Redbirds then travel to Northwestern for an 11 a.m. start on Sept. 11. Valley play begins Sept. 18 at South Dakota State.
By Bo Ryan, The Journal Star