Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Been a Nice Run for Hardy and Rice as Illinois Stalwarts

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Been a Nice Run for Hardy and Rice as Illinois Stalwarts

Article excerpt

When you're a college football coach, players come and go like a herd of migrating buffalo.

Most graze over four or five years. Others get hurt, homesick or flunk out. But all eventually move on. And for many, that severs a bond that has deepened from the day the coach first sets foot in the living room of a recruit.

In the case of Illinois' Lou Tepper, there have been hundreds of players, hundreds of bonds forged. Tepper is coach, teacher, mentor, and in some cases, father figure.

He recently wound up two weeks of one-on-one interviews - a hundred interviews - with each Fighting Illini player. Spring football has concluded, and the coach wants to personally deliver his player evaluations, along with the importance of tackling the books.

"A lot of pride is involved in seeing a young guy blossom and come on," Tepper said recently.

Not all blossom, though, in quite the same way as linebackers Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice.

Two weeks ago, in the National Football League draft, Jacksonville made Hardy the second player chosen. Rice went next, to Arizona. (Rice will graduate this week with a degree in speech communications; Hardy is working on his master's in business administration.)

The thought that these young men would go so high in the draft had made Tepper smile a few days earlier. Like a proud papa.

"To have two No. 1s in one year, that may not occur again in my career," Tepper said.

"I think back to how immature they were. What 17-year-old isn't?"

Rice was lightly recruited out of Mount Carmel High in Chicago. He was gangly. He'd played three positions in three seasons: running back, tight end and defensive tackle. And he'd mastered none.

He also was something of a head case. When his high school coach moved him from running back to tight end, Rice deliberately fumbled the passes floated his way. He was benched until he learned who was boss.

What turned the corner for Rice? A telephone call from Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti. …

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