Jour­ney of Illini line­man took many twists, turns

The Columbus Dispatch - - Sports - By Mark Znidar

In the fall of 2012, Chris­tian DiLauro thought he had his foot­ball life fig­ured out well into the fu­ture de­spite be­ing a 17-year-old se­nior at Green High School in north­east­ern Ohio.

He was go­ing to play for Toledo, just as his fa­ther, Matt, and un­cle Joe, and catch a lot of passes as a tight end.

It didn’t take him long to un­der­stand that plans can change.

“My dad and un­cle went with me on ev­ery re­cruit­ing visit, and they al­ways told me that I would wind up be­ing an of­fen­sive line­man,” DiLauro said. “I ar­gued with them all the time. I was go­ing to be a tight end. Then the col­lege coaches saw my body type. I was go­ing to be an of­fen­sive line­man.”

His plans took an­other de­tour when Toledo coach Tim Beck­man was hired away by Illi­nois be­fore that sea­son ended. One of his first calls went to DiLauro ask­ing him to flip schools.

Illi­nois (2-8) will en­ter its game Satur­day against Ohio State (8-2) at Ohio Sta­dium on an eightgame los­ing streak, but DiLauro has been one of the team’s suc­cess sto­ries in hav­ing started 39 of the last 40 games as a 6-foot-5, 300-pound right tackle.

The dif­fi­cult part has been play­ing for three head coaches, Beck­man, Bill Cu­bit and Lovie Smith, and four of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors.

DiLauro could have fled the scene and hooked on with an­other team af­ter he grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in agri­cul­tural ac­count­ing last De­cem­ber.

“I had a chance to leave, but I had one more year left here and have had such a great re­la­tion­ship with the guys on the team," he said. “If I left, that would have been like quit­ting on my friends. It has been a tough five years and not the eas­i­est of jour­neys, but I’ve had the right men­tal­ity. My fam­ily told me that once you start some­thing, you fin­ish some­thing. We’ve all had high hopes about what we wanted. You grind it out.”

Other than try­ing to find a way to win a third game, the task at hand for DiLauro has been teach­ing the younger play­ers how to carry them­selves. There are 54 true fresh­men or red­shirt fresh­men and 22 sopho­mores on the ros­ter.

“It is a point of pride to start all these games be­cause of the his­tory of this pro­gram and the peo­ple who have come be­fore me," he said. My fam­ily comes to al­most ev­ery game, and I want to put that jer­sey on and start. I grew up a big Toledo fan and that was my dream school at that time. I didn’t pay much at­ten­tion to the Big Ten. Illi­nois is a great place, a great univer­sity."

Beck­man was fired dur­ing DiLauro’s red­shirt fresh­man sea­son in 2014, when the Illini fin­ished 6-7. As­sis­tant Bill Cu­bit took over the fol­low­ing sea­son but was let go af­ter a 5-7 record. Smith was 3-9 last sea­son.

DiLauro said ad­just­ing to an­other of­fen­sive line coach has been more dif­fi­cult than ad­just­ing to the head coach.

“The tough part has been I’ve had four of­fen­sive line coaches, and they’ve all had dif­fer­ent ideas about how to use your hands and feet," he said. “The tech­nique has been dif­fer­ent."


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