Zooker Nearly Drove Mendenhall To Quit Illinois

Rashard Mendenhall, now in camp with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, said he was close to “walking out” on football during his senior year at Illinois.

Rashard Mendenhall

Rashard and his brother Walter played together for the fighting Illini last season. When Rashard left for the NFL, Walter transferred to Illinois State. And neither had anything nice to say about their former coach, Ron Zook.

Rashard enjoyed the most productive season a running back ever had at his former school, but he says he didn’t really enjoy it. From Champaign’s THE NEWS-GAZETTE:

“There was a point where we were at the stadium and I was ready to start walking out and my brother stopped me,” Mendenhall said. “I wasn’t walking out like I was playing around for the day. I don’t play around with stuff like that.”

“I sat down and I was like, ‘If this is what football is, I don’t know if I want to do that anymore,’ ” Mendenhall said. “I’m not soft at all. I’m not scared of adversity. I don’t care if somebody’s yelling at me. That’s not what it was about at all.

“My brother was the one who kept me there,” Mendenhall said. “He got me refocused. He let me realize it was bigger than me. It wasn’t all about me. It was about my family. It’s about kids I hadn’t even met yet who I would impact by (quitting). I love the game of football, but so much other stuff taints it.”

Coach Zook caught wind of Rashard’s comments, and responded with the adequate coachspeak:

“I feel bad that he feels that way.”

“Obviously, he was a heckuva player for the University of Illinois and was very, very instrumental in the success that we had last year. You hate to see players who are disgruntled. It happens for whatever reason.

“We were obviously fair with Rashard and we tried to make him the best player he could possibly be. We coached him and Walter just like we coached everyone else,” Zook said. “We’re very, very appreciative of the contributions that him and Walter made to our program.”

Football is an abusive sport, both in the punishment one gets from opponents each week, but also in the motivational tactics from coaches each day. But still, how bad could Zook have been? How likely was a senior to quit, especially one projected to goin the first round of the upcoming draft? Could he have been upset with Zook’s successful recruiting that brought in extra competition for his job.

It may have been that Mendenhall wasn’t ready to play for the elite program Zook was building. Some guys just want to be The Man, and be treated accordingly. If Mendenhall was ready to “quit” over a coach in college, he’ll be in for a rude awakening on Sundays this fall.