Corona, CA: Illini FB draws nasty assignment

Jay Prosch ready to bang heads with Burfict, ‘nation’s meanest player'

Illinois fullback Jay Prosch heard all about the reputaton of Arizona State junior middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

But for the rest of you ...

Burfict is known as Ray Lewis Jr., a mixture of hard hits and unpredictable behavoir. In his first college game, Burfict drove into an Idaho State quarterback, knocking him about 4 feet in the air and 4 feet back. Later as a freshman, he acted like LaVar Arrington, swan diving the Georgia offensive line on a fourth and short to end a Bulldogs drive.

There’s also the time Burfict shot the gap so quickly and forced an early handoff that Burfict tackled Oregon running back LaMichael James and guard Carson York — roughly 460 pounds of Duck — for a 5-yard loss.

“He’s supposed to be the meanest guy in college football,’’ Prosch said Tuesday, between gulps of air following a warm morning practice. “It should be interesting.’’

When Illinois (2-0) plays host to No. 22 Arizona State (2-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in a nonconference game (BTN), the game within the game pits Prosch vs. Burfict. Let’s get ready to rumble.

While Burfict brings the street cred and extensive YouTube file, the 6-foot, 250-pound Prosch doesn’t appear intimidated. After his family stared down cancer last spring, Prosch returned to Illinois for his sophomore year more lean, powerful and explosive.

The blocking back who cleared the way for Mike Leshoure’s record-setting run last season, Prosch earned a spot on ESPN’s “Freaks’’ list for workout warriors. He holds two Illini weight room records (hang clean 402 pounds, power clean 396). With his body fat down from 12 percent to 6 percent, Prosch will be on the lookout for Burfict.

“The best thing you can do against tough guys is hit them in the face,’’ said Illini offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. “We’ve got to get Prosch on him, let him get after him quite a bit. That’s a matchup of two really good football players. Prosch is a pretty tough kid. There will be some nice collisions.’’

Burfict wears No. 7, but there might as well be a target on him.

“I’m pretty sure he knows about me,’’ Prosch said. “We’re both already eyeing each other. We’ll be hitting pretty good.

“I’m not really the nasty type of player. I won’t cheap shot him. From what I’ve heard, he’s a crazy player. I don’t know what to expect. I’m not really worried about it. I will do my job.’’

There’s the other side to Burfict. He had three personal fouls in a game against Washington in 2009. A late face mask followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty played a key role in the loss to Stanford last season. Coach Dennis Erickson benched Burfict at the start of the next game after a head-butt to Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz last season.

Burfict was involved in a locker room fight in the preseason, according to media reports.

The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Burfict is known for a mean streak, but his game is built as much or more on speed.

From watching the video, “I’m not sure the emotion doesn’t come from the defense, in particular the middle linebacker,’’ Illinois coach Ron Zook said.

When informed The Sporting News would call him the nation’s meanest player, the quiet Burfict said, “I would love that.’’ This week, he’s off limits to media, according to Arizona State.

Burfict grew up in a single-parent home, and his mother moved the family from south central Los Angeles to Corona, Calif., for a better life. An admitted momma’s boy, Prosch has a special place for his mother, Iris, who battled stage 4 cancer during the spring and summer.

Iris underwent two surgeries and treatment at Duke Cancer Center following the discovery of a brain tumor. After Jay missed eight days of spring practice, he returned to campus on his mother’s orders. Now, she’s back home in Mobile, Ala., with “no signs of a tumor,’’ Jay Prosch said.

“I talk to her everyday,’’ he said. “She seems strong. She’s a little stressed out at times. My sister is there. So far, everything seems fine.

“I’m really happy with everything that’s happened. It was stage 4. I’ve come to peace with it. Whatever happens in the future is going to happen. I’m happy she’s doing fine now.’’

She will be watching on TV this weekend, when her son is in the game within the game.

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