Asmussen: Picking portal means quick exit | Sports | – Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette Leave a comment

One of Editor & Publisher’s ‘10 That Do It Right 2021’
Partly cloudy skies. Low 26F. Winds W at 10 to 20 mph..
Partly cloudy skies. Low 26F. Winds W at 10 to 20 mph.
Updated: November 14, 2021 @ 7:34 pm

College Football Reporter/Columnist
If an Illinois football player decides to leave the program, the team’s reaction is swift. The separation is clear.
“We as coaches have a checkout procedure,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “When a kid comes in and tells me this is what he wants to do, I literally contact a couple people in the building immediately.”
The players are taken to the locker room to gather their belongings.
“When those kids make decisions to pull out,” Bielema said, “I tell the team who did it and when they did it.”
The portal players are not allowed to remain at the Smith Center. They still have access to medical and academic support.
“They’re just not a part of the football team anymore,” Bielema said. “It’s a little different world. It’s very NFLish when a player is released.”
By the book is Bielema’s plan.
Defensive backs Marquez Beason and Derrick Smith are the latest former Illini to enter the portal.
Based on talks they had in the past, Bielema figured Smith was on the way out. Same with Beason.
“I understand why both of them are doing it,” Bielema said. “I’ll work with them in any capacity I can. Both are on great terms. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work the way we want it to.”
Bielema described Smith and Beason as “great kids.”
There have been no calls from other schools about Smith and Beason. So far.
“We basically tell them ‘Here’s what the rules are. This is what we’ll do for you. We’ll help you in any way we can to help you find a home and wish you best of luck and move on,’” Bielema said.
Early in the season, the Illinois defense gave up 37 and 42 points in consecutive losses to Texas-San Antonio and Virginia. Since then, the most points the unit has allowed was 24 to Wisconsin. The defense is starting to look more like what Bielema envisioned. With room to grow.
“I am excited,” he said. “There are a couple key principles I believe in. Up front is to play with extension and set the edge. I think that’s the foundation of run defense.”
Against the pass, Bielema wants his defense to keep the ball in front of it.
“Make them earn every inch,” Bielema said. “I don’t want to give up big plays.”
The current defense has improved its communication, which has led to more success.
Sydney Brown leads Illinois with 70 tackles and running mate Kerby Joseph is fourth with 42.
“The good thing is both of them are really just beginning to scratch the surface of what they can be,” Bielema said.
Joseph was in the football office last Sunday, asking what he can do to improve.
“That’s just how he’s wired,” Bielema said. “I just had a meeting with Syd. Just his awareness of what he can get better at as a football player is pretty cool.”
Wide receiver Brian Hightower was all set to make the trip to Minnesota. But the Californian stayed back after talking to Bielema about redshirting this season, preserving another year of eligibility. He has played in four games, the most allowed in order to get the season back.
“As a head coach, I’m not going to make a player do something he doesn’t want to do,” Bielema said. “Position changes. Play, not play. He wanted the opportunity to redshirt, so I obliged.”
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or by email at
College Football Reporter/Columnist
Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).
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