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Illini's Juice really did have his share of sweet moments
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Columnist

Quarterback Juice Williams runs for a touchdown at Cincinnati last Friday, when he went past the 10,000 mark for career total yardage at Illinois.


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Published: 12/3/2009 12:17 AM

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Just in case you're thinking Juice Williams has been the biggest failure in the college football universe.

Behold, the yin and yang of the celebrated Class of 2006's top five prep quarterbacks:

One guy stands 2 wins away from his third BCS championship ring.

One guy went first overall in the most recent NFL draft and started for his pro team from Day One.

One guy lost a head-to-head battle at his Big Ten school and had to transfer to a Football Championship Subdivision team in order to find playing time.

One guy transferred from one BCS school to another in order to find glory - only to find himself stuck on USC's third-string with just 16 passing attempts since his freshman year.

Considering Juice Williams wasn't nearly as prepared for college football as Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford, Pat Devlin or Mitch Mustain - and chose to attend a school that had lost 19 of its previous 21 games against Division I-A competition - I have to say Juice succeeded beyond all realistic expectations during his college career.

So let's roll the highlight video as Juice's career comes to a close Saturday:

• You say Illinois hadn't beaten a No. 1 team since 1956 - and had never taken down a top-ranked team on the road?

Well, on Nov. 10, 2007, Williams threw for 4 touchdowns without an interception at Ohio State. He rushed for 4 first downs - converting 3 third downs and a fourth-and-inches situation deep in Illini territory - to kill off the final 8:09 of Illinois' 28-21 win over the Buckeyes.

• You say Illinois hadn't played in the Rose Bowl since Jan. 2, 1984? Juice led the Illini into battle against USC on Jan. 1, 2008.

• You say Kurt Kittner was Illinois' total-yardage king with 8,880 yards?

Last week Juice became the first Illini and sixth Big Ten player to cross the 10,000-yard barrier.

He will go into the history books as the Big Ten's No. 2 all-time rushing quarterback (behind Indiana's Antwaan Randle El).

• You say Illinois hadn't beaten despised Michigan in back-to-back years since the 1950s? Juice led the Illini to wins over the Wolverines this season and last.

• Speaking of last year's game, Juice set the single-game total offense record at 82-year-old Michigan Stadium. And at 86-year Memorial Stadium. And at the newer Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, which also hosts the NFL's finest flingers.

• You say few people cared about Illinois football until Juice became Ron Zook's first big commitment on May 29, 2005? You couldn't be more right.

I remember Juice serving as the face of the program before he was eligible to sign a letter of intent with Illinois.

He joined a popular Illini message board and posted frequent, positive messages - ending them all with "I GOT JUICE!" and some clappy-guy emoticons.

He drove down from Chicago's South Side to attend football and basketball games. Played a big role in recruiting Illinois' 27-player class that year.

"Sometimes I feel like I should be getting paid for doing all the texting and calling," Juice said a few days before he signed his letter of intent, "but it's all fun."

Zook heard people talk about Juice while traveling in Mexico and Puerto Rico with his family. Heck, a character on the ABC comedy "Modern Family" wore a replica Juice jersey earlier this fall.

Of course, his last two years haven't been as rewarding as the Rose Bowl season. Zook even turned on him after four games this year and gave Eddie McGee an ill-fated start.

"He's kind of the guy that when it's been good it's been good and when it's been bad it's been bad," Zook said. "To me, the thing you remember is how he handled the bad times - he took it like a man."

All that's left for the 22-year-old young man is Saturday's date with Fresno State - and maybe nothing after that.

The general consensus believes Juice has no NFL future, even though the other top eight guys on the Big Ten's career total-offense list either play in the league today or spent at least five years there back in the day.

Juice, true to his nature, remains optimistic about his future. As he said Tuesday during a fan chat for Illinois' Web site:

"For starters, I could see myself being a hot commodity running the Wildcat. But as time progresses I see myself becoming more of a traditional passer, especially as I get older and my legs deteriorate."