Sit down, team. Let Dan Smith, the only full-time sport psychologist in college football, attach some biofeedback sensors to your forehead. Close your eyes. Think of the color light blue. Relax. Think of pleasant things, like the NCAA-record 101 passes (for 1,278 yards) wide receiver David Williams caught last year. Think of the 1,056 yards fullback Thomas Rooks gained. Think of how both players are returning and of how no other Big Ten team has ever had a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver in the same season.
Starting to zone out? Go with it. Think of senior quarterback Jack Trudeau, who completed at least 60% of his passes in every game last year and is poised to break all of Tony Eason's career records. Think of all-conference kicker Chris White, the coach's son, returning to improve his 24-of-28 field goal performance of last season. Think of the 17 first-stringers you have coming back. Think of the great coach himself, Mike (Old Blue Eyes) White, the dashing Californian who has led Illinois to four straight winning seasons, each of which has included at least seven victories.
Soothing, huh? Are you ready to kick some Hawkeyes' teeth in yet? Wait...the beeps are speeding up. No, no! You're remembering that this is the second year of your two-year NCAA probation for recruiting violations. Sure, you couldn't go to a bowl game last season. But if you win the conference this year, you can return to the Rose Bowl and get back on television.
Stop! You're making the beeper go haywire! Forget the 45-9 pounding you took from underdog UCLA in the '84 Rose Bowl. O.K., Smith, your shrink, had you thinking the game was in the bag. However, a lot of you guys were sophomores then. And forget that damned pink locker room in Iowa City, will you! Smith will get your minds right before you play the Hawkeyes. Already his therapy has improved the team's fourth-quarter scoring and third-down conversion rate. In fact, he has spent more than 1,400 hours with you guys in the last two years, calming you, soothing you, even whipping you into a frenzy, if that's what you needed. "Ours is a long-term, regular program," Smith says. "It includes relaxation, imagery, self-confidence training, goal-setting training and interpersonal skills. Hopefully, the person with the most sophisticated training will dominate on the field."
Look, it's just a coincidence that you meditate on the color light blue—which happens to be UCLA's color. Really. You guys could win it all this year just on physical talent. And except for games against Southern Cal and Nebraska, only one game should get you totally whacked out—the one against nemesis Iowa, in Iowa City. You played the Hawkeyes there last year, and they whipped you 21-16. Your locker room had been painted pink, a weak, non-arousing color. "I couldn't believe it," says Smith. "Maybe it was the only color they had. But I doubt it."
It was no accident. "It [the pink room] worked pretty well for us until November, when we got some people hurt," says George Wine, Iowa's sports information director. "Remember, Coach Fry was a psychology major at Baylor."
Let the mind wars begin.
JOHN F. JAQUA
Linebacker Sam Ellsworth received biofeedback therapy from Smith, who has spent more than 1,400 hours working on Illini minds.