Durkin Enjoys Illini Visit, Decision Soon

Some high school football players are beginning to make college decisions as they complete their camps and visits. Tinley Park Andrews center Tony Durkin is focusing on three Big 10 schools with a decision likely in the next couple weeks. His visit to Illinois recently may have helped the Illini cause.

Tony Durkin is a busy man, but he is still taking time out to respond to media requests for interviews. After all, he may not receive as many calls once he commits to a school.

"It's kind of fun to get some of this stuff, but it's getting close to the end. I figure I might as well enjoy it while it lasts. I'm just waiting to hear back from Michigan State, and then I'll probably make a commitment in a week or two."

He camped at MSU last week and made an unofficial visit to Illinois. He enjoyed his visit to Champaign.

"I was very impressed. It was me, my sister, my brother and my dad. We talked to Coach Zook for almost an hour, small talk and a little about football. We talked about our families and how the University of Illinois will help me in the future if football doesn't work out. It was really appealing.

"And then they had a practice-type thing with no coaches. We got to watch that, and it was pretty cool. We got to talk to the players about some things you might not want to ask a coach, things a player might worry about if things don't go the way the coach might tell you when talking about all the good things. A player will be straight-up honest with you. So that was good.

"I took a tour when I visited before, but my dad and I got to walk around awhile before having dinner. We had a good visit."

Durkin has a final three.

"Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota."

Two of the three schools have or will have teammates should he choose them.

"It's kind of weird because two of my three choices, Chris (O'Connor) is going to Illinois and my teammate last year Mark Lenkiewicz is at Minnesota. So those two are pretty appealing.

"Chris is talking Illinois and telling me to call up and commit. He's been pushing them since he committed. It would be really cool to go to the same spot because we play next to each other."

He had a favorite school growing up, but he is now a Big 10 guy.

"When I was growing up, my grandpa and dad were Notre Dame fans because we were pretty close. We used to go to Notre Dame games a lot. The last couple years I've gone to a couple UI games. They're a lot of fun with a good game-day atmosphere, which is pretty cool.

"I've been to a few Big 10 games, and Big 10 football is pretty top-notch. It's exciting that if you go to a Big 10 school, you'll get to play in a lot of places people don't get to see. I'm excited about playing in the Big 10."

The 6'-4", 240 pounder respects Illinois offensive line coach Joe Gilbert.

"He's definitely a good guy. It seemed like he had good family values when we talked to him. He says he's got a daughter and some boys. He's real passionate about the game and passionate about the offensive line.

"It's one of the most important positions out there, if not the most important. It all starts with the guys up front, and he understands that. He cracked a couple jokes, so he's got a good sense of humor. He seems like he would be a fun guy to play for."

The Tinley Park Andrew star will be a three year starter this fall, and he is pleased with his move to center.

"Last year was my first year playing center. My freshman year I played tackle. During summer camp my freshman coach told me my next year the coach would move me up to varsity, and thy needed me to play guard. So I played guard freshman year.

"Sophomore year I started varsity at guard. And then Coach (Jim) Zimmer told me if I wanted to play in college it would be in my best interests to play center. I think that's the best decision I ever made."

Former Illini center Eric Block spoke of the intimate relationship between a center and his quarterback. Durkin gets teased about that, but he also knows how important he is to the qb.

"Our quarterback has become one of my best friends, and we always joke about that. I'll be going to his house, and someone will joke, 'Oh, you're going to your girl friend's house.' That's funny because we're always hanging out.

"If he's gonna be next to me, he's got to be nice to me because I'm the one protecting him. He treats all the linemen real good."

Durkin has an admirable goal beyond football. He wants to give of himself as a Special Education teacher, and he may also want to coach.

"My cousin passed away when he was seven. He had Muscular Dystrophy. We'd go over there, and I'd always hang out with him and talk with him.

"It's kind of big at our school. As a football team, we always use some of the special needs kids. Two of them are water boys during the games. I take a class with them, and I'm actually their teacher. It definitely can be rewarding. But talking to the teachers at our school, it can be stressful some days."

Like with football, a special education teacher must take the bad with the good. But the motivation to continue and rewards for any success outweigh the problems for Durkin.

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