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April 08, 1982 - Image 10

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1982-04-08

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Page 10-Thursday, April 8, 1982-The Michigan Daily

Lilja ready to beat 'injury'

By PAUL HELGREN
Former Michigan football All-American
George Lilja was back in Ann Arbor a
couple of weeks ago, but this time he
wasn't playing on the football field. The
one time Wolverine captain was here on
serious business - he got married to
his college sweetheart, Meg Eisele, also
an'M' graduate.
When he's not getting married, Lilja
does find time to play football. Right

Former Blue captain
battles for L.A. job

now he's in Anaheim, Cal. putting in ex-
tra time in the Los Angeles Ram's
training camp in hopes of breaking into
the starting lineup next year. The 6-
4 260 pound center !spent all of last
season on the injured reserve list, but
feels confident he will make the squad
next yeaf,
"THE EXTRA training is helping me
a lot," said Lilja. "Rich Saul (the
Rams starting center last year) retired
and the team is looking at me very
closely. I'm listed at number two in the
depth chaft (at center), but the draft is

coming up, so I could be knocked down
to third (if L.A. draftsa center)."
Lilja was selected by the Rams in the
fourth round of last year's NFL draft.
An ankle injury in the last pre-season
game of the year put him out of action.
Although the injury quickly healed,
there was no place for Lilja on the L.A.
roster so he remained on the injured
reserve list for the whole year. He is
not discouraged, though.
"The way I see it," he said, "is that it
was my rookie year, so I probably
wouldn't have played much anyway.
It's hard to sit out a whole year, but
with Saul in there, there really wasn't
any room for me."
WAITING FOR a chance to play is
not a new experience for Lilja. The
Orland Park, Ill. native didn't play at
all in his freshman year at Michigan
and was subsequently red-shirted. He
played only sparingly in his sophomore
and junior years, but started as a
senior. He elected to remain in school
for his final year of eligibility and made
good use of the extra year, earning All

Big-Ten and All-American honors at
center. Lilja was offensive captain that
year and played in the Hula Bowl, as
well as the Japan Bowl.
Lilja's final year was also the year
Michigan ended its bowl jinx, defeating
Washington, 23-6, in the Rose Bowl.
The '81 Rose Bowl was Lilja's fourth
straight appearance in a bowl game,
but the only victory. He said the win,
"cadped off my career."
Alhough the Rose Bowl win was im-
portant to him, Lilja said the traditional
Michigan-OSU games were "just as ex-
citing." He added that bowl games
shouldn't be compared with the Ohio
State games. "Both games are big, but
the hype is different for bowl games,"
he said. "There's less pressure. It's
more like icing on the cake."
THE ENTHUSIASM and spirit that
goes with college football is one of the
many things Lilja no longer sees as a
pro. "It's a job now," he said. You have
to deal with the administration (of the
club)".

Lilja noted that the pro game is dif-
ferent on the field, as well as off. "For
an offensive lineman, the pass-blocking
techniques are more complicated," he
said. "I feel I've only just now
mastered our offensive system."
One extra thing NFL players must
deal with this year is the contract
negotiations with the owners. Lilja sees
the final outcome of the talks as
critical, not only to the NFL players,
but to all professional athletes.
"PEOPLE ARE going to be watching
(the negotiations) to see what happens.
This could affect negotiations in other
sports. Whatever happens, it's going to
be a struggle.
While the negotiations may be a
struggle, Lilja is hoping the Ram's
season won't be. Lilja watched from
the sidelines last year as the Rams
went 7-9. This year will be different, he
hopes.
"We've got the talent," Lilja said.
"It's just a matter of getting our act
together." Lilja added that an unstable
quarterback spot may have hurt the
team. "Playing musical quarterbacks
had to hurt us last year. I don't think
we'll have that problem this year."
Right now though, the question of who
will be the Ram's quarterback isn't a
major concern for Lilja. He still has a
lot to look forward to - like his first
game in the NFL.

FORMER WOLVERINE All-American center George Lilja takes on a
Michigan State lineman as John Wangler drops back to pass. Lilja, who was
the fourth round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams, spent the 1981 NFL
season on the injured reserve list.

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