NORMAL, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –Rockford’s James Robinson was the face of the Illinois State football team a couple years ago. Robinson has since moved on to bigger things of course, but the Redbirds have never had more a Rockford feel to them than they do this season.
In all there are seven players on the roster who come from our area. Five of them from NIC-10 schools, one from the Big Northern Conference and one from the NUIC.
That NUIC player is starting right tackle Peyton Asche of Pearl City. He started two of the Redbirds four games in the spring. Now in his fourth year on campus Asche is locked-in as the starting right tackle, and he could dominate in the Missouri Valley Conference with his 6’8, 315 pound frame.
“I was brought in here at right tackle. I’ve spent all of my other years here at right tackle. That’s where I feel the most comfortable at,” said Asche. “I’ve gotten stronger. I have better body composition, so I feel better during games. The more experience I have now understanding the offense, I don’t have to think about stuff much.”
The Big Northern Conference player is North Boone’s Britton Morris. He’s packed on some muscle since his high school days. As a redshirt freshman he’s being patient waiting for his turn at quarterback.
As for the NIC-10 guys, Guilford graduate Julian Haynie is seeing a lot of time as a second-string cornerback on defense. He’s also playing on the punt return team.
Boylan graduate Noah Hickcox is in his first season with the Redbirds at defensive tackle after transferring in from Minnesota. He sat out ISU’s opening game last Saturday with a minor injury, but he’ll be contributing soon enough.
“One hundred percent yea once I’m back,” said Hickcox. “You’ve got to make the most of every rep you get, so whatever that looks like per game you’ve just got to make the most of it, and that’s what I plan on doing.”
The other NIC-10 newcomer on the Redbirds is true freshman tight end Jarrett Strate-Lutzow of Hononegah.
“It’s been interesting,” said Strate-Lutzow of his first year in Normal. “It’s a major change from the NIC-10 you know. Having a lot of guys that I know from here Noah Hickcox and a couple guys from the NIC-10 area has been really awesome. They have definitely taken me under their wing and teach me the Division I level.”
There are also two former Freeport Pretzels on the team. Keondre Jackson is a redshirt freshman defensive back. He’s seeing a lot of action on the kickoff coverage team. And there’s Zeke Vandenburgh. He’s a starting outside linebacker again for the Redbirds roaming the wide side of the field operating in space. He’s one of the team’s leaders.
“I love rushing the passer,” said Vandenburgh.
And what does Vandenburgh think of all the NIC-10 guys on the roster?
“It’s pretty cool isn’t it? 8-1-5 and James Robinson showing-out in the NFL it’s been pretty cool to see.”
And of course all of these guys were recruited to ISU by another NIC-10 guy Rockford native and ISU head coach Brock Spack.
“He’s a lot of fun to play for,” said Vandenburgh. “He’s so intense. He’ll just take you to the edge. He’ll ask the most of you, like make sure you reach your highest potential.”
“He’s always going to motivate you,” said Hickcox. “He’s always going to push you to do the right thing.”
“He’s the leader. We listen to him,” said Strate-Lutzow. “He’s going to put us in the best position to win on and off the field.”
The Redbirds crushed Butler in their opening game last Saturday 49-7. This Saturday they’ll play at Western Michigan.