Illini Look For Encore From Jay Prosch

Jay Prosch (Jack Lyman)

All Fighting Illini fans remember the Northwestern game at Wrigley Field last year. Everything fell into place, and the Illini ground game dominated. Leading the way for Mikel Leshoure's record-breaking day was fullback Jay Prosch. That game made the nation aware of the Alabama freshman. With the 2011 Northwestern game looming, Prosch is hopeful for another top performance.

Jay Prosch was an offensive lineman and linebacker at UMS-Wright High School in Mobile, Alabama. Recruited to Illinois to play fullback, Prosch had to learn on the fly last season. He did well enough to give notoriety to an otherwise obscure position.

"I'm trying to. When I came here, I didn't really know what the position was about, but now I do. It's awesome to be able to play it."

He started from the first game, and he kept getting better. He received major kudos for his blocking in the 2010 Northwestern game. It was unexpected.

"Yeah, it was really cool. It definitely made things more interesting, more fun and exciting. But there's also more pressure. I always like that, so it's good."

As well as he played, Prosch was still in learning mode. With a full year under his belt, he feels capable of taking his game to another level.

"Since I kind of know everything this year, it's second nature to me now. I've done it before; now I can focus on what I'm doing. I can go full speed without thinking about all my steps, my keys, all that stuff. I can just go, so it's much better."

The workout warrior was one of the strongest players on the team as a freshman. He is bigger and in better shape this year.

"Yeah, I'm about 255 now, on a good day 258. That's fine with me. I just want to get above 260, but I'm still moving great. My legs have probably gotten a lot stronger and faster. When we last checked body fat, I was 6%."

He and defensive tackle Akeem Spence have been competing for the Illini power clean record. It is a battle that will continue the next three years.

"I had the record all last year. He came back and beat me at the beginning of summer, and then I came back and broke his record. A week later he tied my record, and they stopped us there. They didn't want to worry about us getting too heavy. We both stopped at 396. Hopefully next summer they'll let us get into the 400's.

"Whenever he would beat me, they'd immediately get the ladder and take my name off, and then vice versa. It's a defense vs. offense thing. Whenever it's happening, everyone crowds around. It's a fun, competitive type thing."

Other teammates are striving to approach the record, but Prosch and Spence are clearly ahead.

"I know Hugh Thornton is up there. He's something like 360 or 370. Some of the other offensive linemen are really strong too."

Prosch enjoyed blocking for Mikel Leshoure last year, who became a 2nd round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. He may have lost the superstar, but he's excited about blocking for freshmen Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young and seniors Jason Ford and Troy Pollard.

"Definitely. Josh Ferguson has got speed and quickness. He can cut back. He can do whatever he wants, he's so quick and light, and so strong. Donovonn is more of a power back. He has straight ahead speed. I don't think he has the cutback that Josh can do, but Donovonn will run you over. So they both have their advantages.

Jason is more like Donovonn. He's a bigger guy. He's still fast, but he'll run you over. He's a veteran and knows everything, so that's always good. Troy is a great player. I love Troy. He's quick, he's fast, he reads well and has great vision. I know if I make that block, he's gonna cut right underneath me. We definitely have some depth at that position."

Prosch got to run the ball in the spring, and he did extremely well. He tried and failed on fourth and goal from the one last Saturday against Western Michigan. Will he get another chance to run the ball this fall?

"I don't know. I'd like to, but I'm not asking for it. I'm just doing my thing. Hopefully in the future, if not this year then next year. And maybe a pass. I got one last year. Maybe I'll get a little bit of love."

With Zach Becker out for the year with a broken leg, Chris Willett is the backup fullback.

"He's doing good. He's doing better than last year. Last year he was just like I was. He had trouble running the plays. But he's definitely catching on."

Prosch is excited about the potential of the Illini offense this season.

"I feel like our offense this year is just outstanding. Nathan (Scheelhaase) has gotten much better. The offensive line is doing great, we have plenty of depth at running back and receiver. I feel like everybody knows everything this year, so every play is smooth going. It is much better this year."

Not everything went well for Prosch his first year on campus. His mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he missed some spring practice time to be at her side. He reports his mom is doing well now.

"She's doing great. We got a report saying there was no sign of a tumor. So she's getting better for sure."

Make no mistake, Northwestern defenders will be ready for him this Saturday. But if he continues to improve, Prosch should have an outstanding career in Champaign.

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