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Illinois coach Tim Beckham firmly into hunger games

In this photaken March 1 2012 new Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman yells instructions his players during spring football

In this photo taken March 1, 2012, new Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman yells instructions to his players during spring football workouts in Champaign, Ill. Beckman promises to build intensity into his team. They lost six in a row last season. Those six losses are why Beckman has his job. They're the reason Ron Zook, who came to Illinois renowned for his own brand of intensity, was fired. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Darrell Hoemann)

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Updated: May 14, 2012 8:22AM



I don’t know whether I want to buy football tickets from Tim Beckman or a rotisserie grill.

In one of the most public blends of sports, salesmanship and food since George Foreman was changing the way we cook, the new Illini coach has a meal for every occasion.

His wife will serve up lasagna for a different unit of the team each week. Warm and fuzzy.

Players and coaches who adhered to the highest set of standards during offseason workouts ate steak at a team banquet, while those who didn’t measure up received porridge. Tough but fair. Although I’m not really sure what porridge is.

I think there were some cinnamon rolls in there, too, but I didn’t catch everything. I hadn’t realized yet that Beckman’s edict about Illini Time — in which everyone has to be in place 10 minutes early — included his media confabs.

We’re going to hold you to Illini Time on night deadlines this fall, Coach. OK?

The latest food carrot comes in connection with Illinois’ spring game. When the two teams selected in a draft by seniors clash at Memorial Stadium on Saturday (delayed broadcast on BTN at 6 p.m.), pride and another meal will be on the line.

‘‘This is a competition,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘The winner will be rewarded. The loser will get their beans and weenies. That’s the way it is. That’s life — that’s the game of football.’’

There was no follow-up on the winners’ culinary feast. I would expect something like Papa Del’s Pizza or a comparable gastronomic Downstate delicacy.

I don’t know whether to expect steak or weenies this fall. I can see 8-4. I can see 3-9. I can see anything in between.

One thing is clear, though. After a wrenching 2011 finish in which they lost loyal and emotional coach Ron Zook, as well as their last six games, the players are eating up the treat-oriented Beckman’s new motivational brand.

‘‘In the feel and vibe, everyone’s feeling good about everything they’ve learned,’’ quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase told me. ‘‘It’s been cool to see the development. Coach Beck brings a new look, a new mentality, not only in Xs and Os, but from a mental state.

‘‘Everyone in the locker room has jumped on the bandwagon in believing what Coach Beck is telling us each day. That’s good. That’s what you need when you have a transition like we’ve had. You need everyone to buy in. And everyone has.’’

Beckman is demonstrating his commitment to dynamic offense by giving athletic defensive backs Terry Hawthorne and Jack Ramsey opportunities to play on both sides of the ball. And third QB Miles Osei is getting some looks at tailback and receiver.

Depth, though, will be a big key to whether Illini fans give thanks for Beckman in late November or want to ship him back to Toledo.

One example is junior receiver Darius Millines, who will sit out the spring game with a nagging foot injury. When Millines, who looked like he’d benefit from the attention A.J. Jenkins was garnering, was sidelined last October, Illinois’ receiver corps took a big hit.

In a move that legendary baseball owner Bill Veeck once used, Beckman will let one lucky Illinois student call a play during the game.

‘‘We’re going to go into the stands in a third-down situation and put them on the headset,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘They’ll have four choices. This game is not only an opportunity for our players to get better, but also an opportunity for our Illini faithful to be involved in this game.’’

Aside from his enthusiastic pitches, Beckman readily admits to looking for every edge. With BTN airing the game, he said, he won’t open up the playbook much for future opponents to see.

‘‘We’re not gonna showcase everything we do,’’ he said. ‘‘That wouldn’t be very smart.’’

As hungry as Illini Nation is for a winner, the spring game is only an appetizer, anyway.



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