Journey of Illini lineman took many twists, turns
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."