Jonathan Brown Earns Honor For Play

Jonathan Brown (Jack Lyman)

The Fighting Illini football team drew national attention with its big win over Arizona State Saturday and are now ranked in the AP poll. Linebacker Jonathan Brown also received well-deserved honors, being named Big 10 Defensive Player Of The Week. The Memphis native has grown up a lot in a year and appears to be coming into his own.

Jonathan Brown was pleased to be honored by the Big 10.

"It feels great. It's a testament to what we did Saturday. We have to keep building on this. It was definitely a real big game for me. I just went out and executed. It feels good when the plays come to you."

Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a premonition Brown would have a special game against Arizona State.

"I expected it from him. Even looking at that game before the season, for some crazy reason, probably God put it on my heart, it was one of those games where I thought to myself, 'Everybody's gonna come to see one linebacker (ASU's Vontaze Burfict), and really find out about another linebacker.' That's exactly the way it turned out to be. He played his butt off.

"Our offensive line talked about it all Rantoul, how great a season J.B. was gonna have. To see him have a coming out party on Saturday when we needed it the most, it was something great. He's a guy who's been working his tail off all off season, so that makes it even better for him. He deserves it."

Brown was also pleased to see Illinois in the Top 25 this week, although he reminds you are only as good as your next game.

"It feels good for the fans, but as a team we've got to stay focused. The win gives us a little more attention, but we've got to keep grinding. Western Michigan is a pretty good team, so we've got to get ready for them."

The Illini linebackers were ranked 12th in the Big 10 in the pre season, and that didn't sit well with Brown and his linebacker mates. They are all highly motivated to prove everyone wrong.

"Oh yeah. Nobody likes to be last, especially when we know we can play with anybody. We know we're probably the best linebacker corps in the Big 10, so going into the season ranked last definitely added fuel to the fire."

The thoughtful sophomore explains how much better he and the Illini defense can play now with a year in defensive coordinator Vic Koenning's system.

"As far as understanding the defense, it's coming along real well. Coach Vic has helped me understand concepts. He's helped me understand the game of football better, which is a good thing because now I'm not thinking but reacting more. It allows me to play fast.

"From us having a year to understand the defense, we're really just doing the same things, but it looks a whole lot different. We're doing it right this year instead of being sluggish and slow with it. We really don't have that many calls, it's just we have so many variations that it looks like different calls."

Even the loss of some great upperclassmen hasn't deterred the defense from playing better in 2011.

"We lost a couple of big guys on defense, but last year they helped us develop a pattern of winning and working hard. So even though we lost them, what they taught us stays the same. I think we'll become a better team this year just because of the hard work and coming together and communicating."

Koenning, his defensive assistants and head coach Ron Zook have all been working Brown and his teammates on the details of the game. It is paying off.

"The small details help you prevent the big things. That's something the coaches have really been stressing. The little things prevent the big plays, big mistakes from happening. Once you do the little things, you develop a routine. Your routine carries over into everything you do."

The 6'-1", 225 pounder will be the first to admit he still has more to learn. But now that he has combined a work ethic and attention to detail with his natural abilities, he is showing his true potential according to Zook.

"He still makes second year mistakes at times. But one thing Jonathan's got going for him is he's got football savvy. He's a smart kid anyway, but he does some things you don't have to coach. He has a feel for the game. He plays hard and enjoys the game. He loves to play the game."

Outside linebacker coach Ron West praises Brown.

"We're expecting him to be an impact guy. He got reps last year in a backup role and played a lot of football for us as a freshman. We expect him to play at a high level, and he can do that. He's the type of guy that can make a lot of plays. I think Jonathan will put up a special year for us."

Koenning may think that also, but he knows Brown has more he hasn't yet shown. He wants to keep demanding perfection. As well as Brown played Saturday, it could have been better.

"He had three more sacks if he just does what he's supposed to do. And then he's not just Big 10, he might be National (Player of the Week). He knows that. We just pointed out some things he can do a whole lot better.

"He'll get better if he'll just keep trusting. It isn't anything I haven't told him since the beginning of the year. He can be anything he wants to be if he'll just go fast all the time."

The Big 10 will be honoring Brown frequently if he plays better than he did Saturday.

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