8F - The Michigan Daily - Football Saturday - October 23, 1999
Needing three wins in its last - =, Illinois is putting the ball...
Ill the halids of a child
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By Josh Kleinbaum Daily Sports Editor.
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October 23, 1999 - F
After switching positions before last season, Aaron Shea I
integral part of the Michigan offense. And with every bloci
every defender he runs over, the senior fullback is turning the
It didn't take long for Kurt Kittner to figure out that
something was wrong on Sunday. A day after suffering
his third straight loss and the worst of the season, a 30-
point thumping at the hands of Minnesota, the Illinois
quarterback arrived to practice expecting business as
usual. A day after a game, that means a light, no.-
Imagine .his surprise, then, when Illinois
coach Ron Turner told him to break out the
"I was thinking, 'Uh-oh,"' the sophomore,
quarterback said. "We didn't know what we
were doing once we got out there."
Kittner, along with the rest of the
Illini, found out quickly: a full-pad
"We're looking to regain
some fight," Turner said.
The players "were not
real happy. Maybe
they were mad at me
for making them put
on the pads, and that's
fine. I've had more
than a hundred people
be mad at me before, so
having a hundred foot-
ball players mad at me is
fine. But if they're mad,
they'll fight, and that's all
So where has the fight gone'?
After winning just three games in
Turner's first two seasons as the Illini coach, his team
opened the season with a surprise 3-0 start, although
Arkansas State, San Diego State and Louisville didn't
supply the best competition.
Then came the Big Ten season, and out went the fight.
Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota ran, passed,
smothered, chewed and spit out the Illini, and suddenly
the nation's biggest surprise crashed back to reality.
So with a Sunday practice, Turner laid down a chal-
"How are you going to respond?" the coach
demanded. "Are you going to lie down and
die, or get up and fight?"
If the Illini are going to get up and fight,
Kittner will have to lead the way.
A backup at the start of last year,
Kittner moved into the starting role for
the second half of the season. He started
five straight games and became the
first true freshman to start at quarter-
back for the Illini in more than 50
years. But he still had freshman struggles. He threw just
one touchdown to seven interceptions. He completed
just under 45 percent of his passes. In his five starts, he
won just one game.
Now, with a year under his belt, Kittner has developed
into a threat, even if he is the only oyie in Illini orange.
He's thrown 12 touchdowns versus two interceptions.
His completion percentage is close to 55. After topping
I was thinking, UIloh.'
We didn't know whawe were
doing once we got out there.
-Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner
off at 245 yards in a single game last year, versus Ohio
State, Kittner now averages 229.2.
"When you talk about a sophomore who's thrown for
1200 yards and just threw his first interception this
weekend," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said, "that's pret-
So when the Illini need some leadership, they turn to
"You've got to motivate yourself," Kittner said.
"There's a point in time when you got to say it's got to
stop now, it's got to stop here. This isn't right."
If Kittner sounds frustrated, it's because he is. Three
weeks ago, the Illini were halfway to a bowl game -
Illinois needs six wins to qualify - with close to a full
season left. Now, postseason ball for the Illini seems
about as likely as, well, postseason play for the Detroit
Tigers. With probable wins against Iowa and
Northwestern later in the season, the Illini will have to
beat Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State if they want to
celebrate Christmas outside of the Land of Lincoln.
"I'm going to be ready to play," Kittner said. "It's a
great game and a great atmosphere for football. I like
playing in front of a hostile crowd. That gets me pumped
Which is just what Turner wants. With the full-pads
practice - it was the first time he's pulled that stunt on
a Sunday is his three years at Illinois -- Turner said he
was looking for players to take it upon themselves to get
"He's not a Bobby Knight, but he gets us going, and
gets his point across," Kittner said. "It was a wakeup call
to get us going."
By Andy Latack.Daily Sports Editor
With the way Aaron Shea is talking about Tom Brady, you
wouldn't think the two were teammates, let alone
"He's garbage," Shea said of his fellow senior. "And he's scared
Pretty harsh, especially considering that Brady is the one
responsible for getting Sheathe ball every Saturday. But the full-
back still lights into Brady like there's no tomorrow.
So, is this the makings of a fragmenting lockerrom feud, sure
to tear the team apart'? Can we expect Brady to throw more pass-
es to the referee than to Shea for the rest of the season'?
Not so fast. Shea isn't assessing his friend's gridiron skills.
Rather, he is lampooning Brady's inadequacy on another sort of
football field the electronically-rendered variety that is locat-
ed in the living room of Shea's apartment. If the game is Madden
2000 for the Sony Playstation, Shea reigns supreme over his quar-
It has gotten so bad that Brady avoids Shea's place like an
oncoming linebacker if video games are on the agenda.
"Brady won't come over and play me in video games any-
3-ore," Shea said. "Hale's a little intimidated to come out to the
But as much as Shea is a pain in the neck for Brady and any-
one else he squares off with in Playstation, he has been even more
of a handful for Michigan's opponents this year.
In just his second full season at fullback, Shea has developed
into a bruising runner, a solid blocker, an adept receiver and one
of the focal points of the Michigan offense. After scoring just two
touchdowns in his first three years, Shea already has three scores
this season. And his 193 receiving yards place him third on the
team, just behind wide receivers David Terrell and Marquise
In having such a standout year, Shea has turned some heads. A
few weeks ago, Purdue coach Joe Tiller called Shea the best full-
back he has faced since arriving at the school.
Pretty high praise, considering all the fullbacks that pass
through the ground-oriented Big Ten, where the straightforward
style of play hinges on having a tank-like fullback. Really high
praise when you consider that, coming into last season, Shea was
a third-string tight end with a grand total of 14 career receptions.
- "It was definitely hard, because I'd go out and get the job done
in practice," Shea said of his first two years of eligibility. "But I
never got the opportunity in games."
That's because Shea was playing the waiting game, stuck
behind future NFL players Jerame Tuman (Pittsburgh) and Mark'
Campbell (Cleveland) at the tight end slot. But in fall practice last
year, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr came up with a way Shea could
play immediately, rather than waiting behind the pair for his
entire junior year. By moving him to fullback to replace the grad-
uated Chris Floyd, Shea could return to the position at which he
was recruited before he converted to tight end during his redshirt
season in 1995.
Interestingly, Tuman was both one of Shea's closest friends
and, by virtue of being first on Michigan's depth chart, -also the
reason why Shea was stuck on the sideline. But the competition
for the starting spot never got in the way of the two players'
"The great thing about it was that we were really good
friends," Shea said of Tuman, who he still talks with by tele-
phone three or four times a week. "We always helped each other
out and never kept anything from each other. If one of us saw
that, 'Hey, when this guy lines up in a stance, he might go here,'
we'd tell each other."
But the switch to fullback gave Shea the opportunuty to start
at the same time as Tuman and wide receiver Tai Streets,
one of his other close friends on the team-last sea-
son. And after serving as Tuman's understudy
for three years, Shea was prepared to thrive at
his new position.
iHe did so with the help of running
backs coach Fred Jackson, who had the
brief period between fall practices and
the season-opener at Notre Dame to
mold Shea back into a fullback.
"Coach Jackson did a great job of
getting me ready in a short period of
time," Shea said. "Ile really only
had two-and-a-half weeks to get
me ready, but he had confidence
in me that I knew what I was
And Shea is making Carr,
Jackson and the rest of the
Michigan coaching staff look
pretty astute for suggesting the
switch. He is excelling in his
role at fullback and has
emerged as one of the primary
targets in this year's offensive
"I like finding ways to get him the
ball because he can run very well,"
Carr said, "If you make a mistake on
him, he can hurt you big."
Despite gaining notiriety this season
as one of the nation's best fullbacks, Shea
doesn't let any of it go to his head.
"The recognition feels good, but one
thing I'm big on is not reading your own
press clips," Shea said. "I know how much bet-
ter I can be, and I don't feel I've reached that yet.
Not even close."
But while Shea remains humble about
his work on the field, he has a tougher
time. being modest about his
Playstation ability Altog o
might get an objection about that
from Brady or wide receiver
Marcus Knight, another fre-
quent opponent of Shea's.
Shea always plays the
game as the Oakland
Raiders, or "Michigan
West," as he calls them,
because of the many
former Wolverines on
the team. Shea
mranuevers the digital -
likenesses of Char
Sam Sword - al
NFL - around th(
snares passes in i
And with the kii
see himself on M
lot iniiI t of c
L p ,i t$ s l:i ~i em P'd' ] F i1nq
Sdn D ?i ld,
I know how much better I can be, and I don't
feel I've reached that yet Not even close.
- Mk~higan lullack Aaron Shea