The Illinois State University football team is looking for another successful season in 2020. ISU has lost some key players, the biggest one being running back James Robinson. Halfback Jeff Proctor is looking to take over as the lead running back role.
Only playing in 11 games last season due to a knee injury, Proctor was still the second-leading rusher with 476 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry while scoring a pair of touchdowns. Proctor says he is recovering better than expected and anticipates being a dangerous threat coming out of the backfield in the passing game.
“I am stronger, faster and more dynamic then I was before the injury,” Proctor said.
“My personal expectation for this year is to help position my team to compete for a national championship. That requires me to be locked in by day one both mentally and physically. Each practice and each day doing the things needed to create a more productive team. Whether it is the running game or the passing game, I plan to get at it 100%.”
Proctor has been called a “home-run hitting back” by his coaches, meaning that he always has the potential to break loose for big plays in the passing or rushing game and long touchdowns. That can help expand an already impressive offense and keep opposing defensives on their toes, which is something that ISU is looking to improve on this season.
ISU head coach Brock Spack has high expectations for Proctor this upcoming season, looking forward to a similar offense with him instead of Robinson, but hoping for more explosive plays out of the senior.
“He seems to be healthy, bounced back good, training well and seems to be in great shape. He was a smaller back but has gotten much bigger and stronger. He’s different than James Robinson because he’s a home-run hitter,” Spack said.
Robinson certainly solidified his name in Redbird history over the past four years. He is ranked No. 2 in the ISU record books in rushing yards (4,444), rushing touchdowns (44), all-purpose yards (5,218), and total touchdowns scored (46). Proctor has the same aspirations to follow in Robinson’s footsteps and lead another dangerous running attack.
“I hope to continue the production we had last season in the running game and just play my game. I feel that I am capable to be successful in this offense. As a team we will be tasked with filling many voids; I expect to help in leading our team, getting the best out of all our players, myself included. If we all step up, we will meet our goals,” Proctor said.
Sitting behind a star like Robinson can always help a player improve. Proctor said he learned from Robinson watching plays in practice every day.
“Last year with Robinson and coach [Khenon] Hall, I was able to get a better understanding of how plays are developing and where I can make my impact to the offense. Working with these guys, I’ve learned how to be patient in the hole and let the play develop,” Proctor said.
One key offensive linemen player returning is All-American Drew Himmelman. An offensive line is always important for a running back to shine, and watching the performances that Robinson had last season has Proctor savoring to mimic the now Jacksonville Jaguar.
“Drew is amazing. The whole O-line is strong and experienced. They respect my talents as much as I respect theirs. Our offense is only as good as the O-line, and I believe we have the best in the league.”
Spack highlighted the team’s strengths heading into the season.
“We have a big physical offense and defensive lines. A player like Romeo McKnight helps our defensive line. Our secondary is a big key for our defense, Devin Taylor and Christian Uphoff help make this defense into one of the best in the [Missouri Valley Conference].”
One key player that also had his season ended early is sixth-year quarterback Brady Davis. Davis played in 11 games before having a season-ending knee injury in the home finale against Missouri State.
“Brady being healthy is a key component to our success as a team. Linebackers will have to be mindful of the threat in the passing game, this means that the run game will open up a little more and make my job a little easier,” Proctor said.
Spack mirrored his running back’s words on Davis and vocalized that he is recovering better than expected and fans should expect to see an improved Davis.
“Having Brady back will help the offense in the play action game and hoping for more big plays this year out of the offense with him being back,” Spack said.
Closing in on the upcoming season, the Redbirds gear up for a trip to Champaign where they take on the Illinois Fighting Illini on Sept 4. Looking for a hopefully injury-free season come fall, the Redbirds will keep an eye on some guys to fill the holes of big-name players who have departed, an important one being Proctor.