Thomas said to ignore outside expectations. Illini should believe.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas' first message to the Illini football team came after practice Thursday, when he told the team he believed in them and to ignore any low expectations from the outside. "Hey, you're not getting a lot of positive play nationally,'' Thomas said. "The game isn't played in print or on the airwaves. As I've always said, including at Cincinnati, it's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't listen to other people's expectations.'' While making his first impression with the Illini, Thomas wanted backed them up. Sports Illustrated had a different opinion, picking the Illini to finish last in their division in Big Ten Conference play. Thomas also said he has an open-door policy with his student-athletes. He won't watch a full practice, but he will swing through for a quick glimpse. The Illini might also see him in the training room and the weightlifting complex. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase planned on taking him up on a meeting in the AD's, perhaps as soon as next week. Scheelhaase said he did the same thing with former athletic director Ron Guenther, who retired in June. "It's good for one of the leaders of the student-athletes to have a relationship with the AD,'' he said. "I had a close relationship with coach Guenther. The same thing will go with coach Thomas.'' Said bandit linebacker Michael Buchanan: "First impressons are big ones. He seemed like a pretty cool guy.'' Thomas met with media and boosters in Chicago, St. Louis and Champaign Wednesday. He planned on returning to continue with details as AD at Cincinnati Friday, then fly to Chicago for the Steve Stricker golf fundraiser Sunday before returning to the Illinois campus Monday. He will take over full time on Aug. 29. Thomas met football coach Ron Zook for the first time, although they spoke briefly on the phone last week. Thomas and basketball coach Bruce Weber have been trading voicemails while Weber and the Illini are traveling through Italy. Only defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, who worked at Cincinnati, has a prior relationship with Thomas. "Most of these guys are new to me,'' Thomas said. "As I tell people who ask what are the priorties, they don't like that priorities are getting to know people, the landscape and how people function. That's not sexy for the media, but that's the truth.'' NOTABLE: Chris Boles, a 6-foot-5, 315-pounder from Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic, passed the NCAA initial eligibility clearinghouse and went through orientation Thursday. He will practice with the Illini for the first time Friday. Zook hinted the offensive tackle is the kind of freshman who may challenge for immediate playing time. . . Illinois will practice at 11 a.m. Friday to allow players to adjust class schedules and move into apartments or dorms. The Illini will hold morning practices on campus beginning Monday. Before breaking camp, the Illini will likely scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday, unless weather forces a change, Zook said. Offensive linemen Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah, Luke Butkus, David Diehl, Martin O’Donnell and Tony Pashos were named to the Illini's all-decade team for the years 2000 through 2010. Positions are being released through Aug. 26. . .