Illinois Fighting Illini runner Mikel LeShoure (6-0, 225) wears Rashard Mendenhall’s number (remember him? the 2008 NFL first round draft pick and current Pittsburgh Steelers star), and last year he started to display a little bit of Shard’s 2007 level of production and talent. In ’09 LeShoure rushed the ball 108 times for 734 yards and 5 TDs, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
“When Mike Locksley was recruiting me, he was telling me that if Rashard was going to the NFL, which they thought he would, then I would get my same high school number. Turns out it worked out that way,” LeShoure said at Illini Media Day in ’09.
“Shard did take over the 2nd half of the season, and I’m sure all four of us want to be that guy,” he said later that day when tailback1 on the Illini depth chart was still in question.
In 2010, LeShoure greeted the Media as THE guy.
By Paul M. Banks
Illinois led the Big Ten in rushing in ’06 and ’07; and they finished second in the conference last fall. LeShoure and the running game were pretty much the only aspect of the team to get excited about last year, and it’s the only component of the 2010 team to be optimistic about thus far.
Under flashy and high-priced offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, the Illini might lean heavily on the run while freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase gets his feet under him. With new starters at wide receiver and QB, don’t surprised if you see LeShoure carrying the ball 25-30 times a game. In order to carry that workload, LeShoure, who started his career as a 240 pound freshman, has dedicated himself to conditioning.
“Last year I played around 235, and now I’m at 228, so it’s just something to stay consistent with,” LeShoure said. And the body fat of this local Champaign product is just 4.2%! Fellow Junior tailback Jason Ford will see a lot of carries, and Justin Green will no doubt me in the mix. However, this is LeShoure’s team now, and he obtained that position by bringing a tremendous work ethic to his conditioning routine.
“I started watching my diet last year, and it showed in my play, I felt like I was able to sustain drives longer without coming out,” he said. Obviously, he’s made some sacrifices for his own health, and for the good of the team, so I asked him what his guilty pleasures are.
“I love fried foods, fried chicken, fried fish and I used to eat kind of late sometimes. And instead of having a snack, fruit or something, I would make pizza rolls or something like that,” Mikel answered.
So with all the changes on the team- the coordinators, the two-deep roster on offense, LeShoure needs to be this team’s constant.
“Especially now that the coaches want me to be a leader for the running backs, and I’m one of the older guys, all the younger guys look up to me and ask me about plays and stuff. My whole role just changed.”
Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru