The needle is pointing up for Illinois State football. The Redbirds are off to a 4-1 start and some Rockford natives have played key roles in that start.
One of those Rockford natives is of course Brock Spack. He’s in his tenth season as the Redbird’s head coach. Another is junior running back James Robinson. The Rockford Lutheran graduate is coming off a big game on Saturday when he rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Western Illinois. Two of his touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when the Redbirds rallied from a 16-12 deficit for the 33-16 win.
“We went in for halftime and we talked about how we needed to execute our blocks and the linemen need to stay on their and then we did that in the second half and we were able to make big plays,” said Robinson.
So far this season Robinson has rushed for 581 yards. He’s averaging 6.6 yards per carry and he has scored eight touchdowns. Those numbers make him one of the top running backs in the nation at the FCS level. He’s posted those stats despite sharing the running back duties with another junior Markel Smith.
“It’s good for me to be splitting carries because we’re not going to be able to stay 100 percent throughout the whole game so having fresh legs just helps us out,” says Robinson.
Another Rockford native who has the Redbirds flying high is Boylan graduate Zackary Mathews. He’s a starting linebacker. He led ISU with seven tackles and one tackle for loss Saturday against Western. He’s also the team’s leading tackler this season with 46 stops including one sack.
“I’m definitely happy with the way I’m playing and the way I’m kind of helping lead the team,” says Mathews. “It’s been going well. We’ve got to keep going. I’ve got to keep improving.”
Mathews saw some playing time last season, but it wasn’t until this year when he earned regular duty as a starter.
“I just kept telling myself that I had, I had the talent. I wasn’t going to waste it. Once my number was called it was on me from there. I wasn’t looking back,” says Mathews.
The Redbirds aren’t looking back either. Despite a loss a week ago to Missouri State at 4-1 they believe they can win the Missouri Valley Football Conference and make the playoffs.
“Absolutely. The way our defense shuts down the run, confuses the quarterback, and the way our offense is set up there’s no telling how far we can go,” says Mathews.
“Last week obviously we didn’t get the win. We were disappointed about that because we played really bad and fell behind,” says Robinson. “The rest of the season we’ve got to come out playing fast and I think that’s what we’re going to do. I think it’s going to be a good season.”
Other Rockford area men who play for Illinois State are Freeport’s Zeke Vandenburgh, Guilford’s Julian Hayne, Marengo’s Jarrell jackson and Pearly City’s Peyton Asche. Rockford native Brian Anderson is the receivers’ coach at Illinois State.
The Redbirds will host South Illinois this Saturday in their homecoming game.