New faces abound as Illini kick off spring ball

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Illinois head coach Lovie Smith begins his third season as the leader of the Illini, but he'll have to do it with a walking boot after injuring his foot this offseason. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith begins his third season as the leader of the Illini, but he'll have to do it with a walking boot after injuring his foot this offseason.

CHAMPAIGN -- Offensive lineman Nick Allegretti has been with the Illini more than just about any person within the program -- and two more years than the majority of his coaches.

The soon-to-be fifth-year senior is one of the few veteran faces in spring practice as it gets going this week. All around him are kids up to five years his junior, plus new faces like offensive coordinator Rod Smith, tight ends coach Cory Patterson and many others.

That's why few are as unique positioned as Allegretti to comment on one of the biggest storylines this offseason: transfers leaving the program.

"There are a lot of guys still at this program that had opportunities to go other places," Allegretti said as spring practice kicked off Tuesday morning. "I'm a Fighting Illini. I've been a Fighting Illini since I was about nine years old. I would never think of leaving.The guys, I think they saw that the work they're putting in in the offseason, the work that the coaches put in, the work that their teammates put in, it's hard to leave with unfinished business. After a tough season like last year leaving would've felt like kind of giving up, you know?"

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