He laughs thinking back on that August in 2009, mainly because he didn’t weigh nearly enough.
“It wasn’t d-end weight,” he said earlier this week, recalling when he tipped the scales around 190 pounds. “It wasn’t outside linebacker weight, I’ll say that.”
Now entering his senior campaign, Buchanan has filled out and has the look of a player ready to emerge as a defensive leader.
Nagurski, Hendricks, Bednarik and Lombardi – all are awards that have Buchanan listed as a player to watch. And some NFL draft experts, such as Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com, predict the Homewood, Ill., native will be the first Illini player selected in the 2013 draft.
Despite the accolades and attention, Buchanan manages to answer questions from the media with a level head.
“I just really don’t pay attention to all the rankings because I know if I go out there and don’t produce then it’s all for nothing,” he said. “… I mean, obviously some of it does get to me, but I just really don’t focus on it.”
While preseason talk may be cheap, Buchanan provides the Illinois defense with options.
“We’ll move him around and utilize him with what he does well,” coach Tim Beckman said.
The first-year coach didn’t go into specifics, but Buchanan offered more details about the role he’ll play.
“I would say I’m still kind of playing that 3-4 outside linebacker,” he said. “I would say this year I’m probably going to be standing up a little more and doing some different types of drops and coming from different places. I’m really enjoying what they’re having me doing right now.”
That includes blitzing from the outside and inside after the snap, he said. Pre-snap, Buchanan could be standing up or lining up with his hand in the ground.
Last year, thanks to his 16 sacks and high draft stock, Whitney Mercilus understandably grabbed most of the headlines. But Buchanan was a solid player as a junior, compiling 7.5 sacks and 64 total tackles.
Illinois senior defensive standout Michael Buchanan against Michigan State. -- Getty Images
Could he up that sack total this season to 16, to match Mercilus?
“I’m not going to say that,” he says.
But he does have a particular number in mind.
“That’s my goal, one sack a game,” he said.
“I want to do whatever I can to help this team win. Part of my job description is creating pressure on the quarterback, so however I can do it I just want to get it done.”
Physically, aided by those 50 pounds put on since his first year, Buchanan says he’s as comfortable as he’s ever been. Perhaps more importantly, he’s in a good place mentally, too.
He’s had his share of down moments, including an arrest and suspension for suspicion of drunk driving in 2010.
The days of being a liability, he says, are long gone.
“Things happen, things happen for a reason,” he said. “All I can do now is learn from it.
“Yes I have made some mistakes while I’ve been here, but I’ve definitely learned from them. I feel like I’ve grown a lot from them.”
The positive and negative have helped shape the man and player Buchanan is today. Those experiences culminated in a speech he delivered to his teammates last Saturday. Each senior speaks to the team in fall camp, a brief account of time spent playing and learning. It’s intended to be an educational tool for the underclassmen, and Buchanan had a lot to say when his time came.
“I was just telling them you have to embrace every day and try to get better every day because when you look up, you know you’re a senior and you’ve got your last 13 games to play.”
With that bit of wisdom at the forefront, what does Buchanan envision for his final season?
“I’m definitely looking forward to having a big senior year, and I think I have the ability and potential to be that next guy,” he said.
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