CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois sophomore placekicker Mike Cklamovski turned down a dozen offers to play college soccer, he said, instead heeding the advice of former Big Ten Conference kickers who just happened to be his uncles.
Illinois sophomore placekicker Mike Cklamovski turned down a dozen offers to play college soccer, he said, instead heeding the advice of former Big Ten Conference kickers who just happened to be his uncles. Vlade Janakievski arrived as a soccer walk-on at Ohio State in 1977, but he's now a member of the school's all-time dream team. Pete Stoyanovich had a 12-year NFL career after his days at Indiana. Imagine the reaction after Cklamovski informed the folks he would walk on for football rather than taking scholarship money in soccer. "Are you kidding?'' his parents asked him. When Illinois meets Missouri in the season opener Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN2) at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Cklamovski will handle the kickoff duty. The kickoff is more critical this season, since the ball is placed at the 30-yard line instead of the 35, presumably to create more excitement on the return. The Paul Bunyan of placekickers, the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Cklamovski showed he could consistently get the ball into the end zone during preseason camp. "He's a big guy,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "When he gets his body behind it, he can kick it. I told him today that it would be windy Saturday. He looked at me and told me he wasn't worried about it. I don't know if he knew we're in a dome or not.'' That's placekicker humor, but it's no laughing matter when a kicker puts it into the end zone for a touchback rather than watching some speedster returning a short kickoff. Cklamovski played goalkeeper in prep and club soccer, receiving a scholarship offer from perennial college powerhouse New Mexico, he said. Cklamovski committed to play at Vanderbilt before the school dropped men's soccer, then he came to Illinois. "It's a lot different from being one of main guys on the team to coming out here, kicking off a couple times a game,'' said Cklamovski, who has worked as a summer Congressional intern. At Lyons Township High School in LaGrange -- where he handle the punts and kicks -- Cklamovski cut a deal with the football coach. "I was the biggest guy on the team, but I wasn't going to play any other position,'' said Cklamovski, who hit a 51-yard field goal as a senior. Cklamovski wants to take over as the Illini's field-goal kicker next season after senior Jason Reda ends his career. Cklamovski averaged 60.2 yards per kickoff last season in six attempts over four games. He had one touchback. "Last year, you could miss it and still kick it deep,'' he said. "This year, if you miss it and put it down to the goal line, it's coming back at you. I can kick touchbacks.'' JUICE ON NO. 7: Sophomore quarterback Juice Williams first wore No. 7 as a tribute to John Elway, then began to appreciate the athletic ability of Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Even though Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges Monday before asking for forgiveness during a morning press conference, Williams is willing to give Vick another chance. "I'm still a Vick fan and love the excitement that he presents to the game,'' Williams said. "Hopefully he'll be back in a Falcons uniform. I don't model the negativity that professional athletes do now. I look up to him from an athletic standpoint. He just made a mistake. Hopefully, he'll bounce back from it.'' BACKCOURT SPOTS: With a shortage of shooting guards following the redshirt of junior Jamar Smith and academic questions over freshman Quinton Watkins, coach Bruce Weber must decide upon a starting lineup when the Illini play in a five-game exhibition tour in Canada that begins Friday. Weber has until Nov. 11 for the season opener, but he might play point guards Chester Frazier and Demetri McCamey together. Weber said it's about playing the best five, just like when Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head asked if they could fill a three-guard lineup. With Frazier and McCamey, "somebody has to make some shots,'' Weber said. "When Dee, Deron and Luther came to talk, I told them somebody has to guard the 3-pointer, somebody has to rebound. If (Frazier and McCamey) are our best, you have to play them. "Defensively, you're going to be pretty good. You have two guys who can pass the ball. If they go zone, do we have enough people to make shots?'' Weber said Frazier "had a good summer and feels good about himself'' after recovering from a string of injuries, including a knee sprain, during his freshman year last winter. McCamey dropped from 217 pounds to 205 and would like to get to 200. McCamey played last season between 205 and 210 pounds at Westchester St. Joseph. IN OTHER NEWS: Illinois sophomore wide receiver Chris James will undergo season-ending surgery to repair his injured right knee, Zook said. James suffered ligament damage in the team's first scrimmage during preseason camp. James has a redshirt year available. … South African Kevin Anderson, an NCAA semifinalist in singles tennis who led the Illini to an NCAA tournament runner-up finish in May, will forgo his senior year to play professionally. The reigning Big Ten player of the year also finished as the NCAA runner-up in doubles with teammate Ryan Rowe. … According to the National Collegiate Scouting Association, Illinois ranked 22nd among NCAA Division I universities based on student-athlete graduation rates, academic strength and athletic prowess. Illinois is in an group of less than 6 percent of colleges and universities to stand in the NCSA's Top 100. John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.