Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Pashos returned last weekend to the place where his football career took off and tried his hand at coaching.
Pashos was invited by University of Illinois head football coach Ron Zook to serve as honorary coach for the Illini Spring Game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Pashos' offensive team pulled out a 38-31 win in front of more than 12,000 fans. Oakland Raiders tight end Fred Wakefield coached the defense.
"It was an honor," Pashos said. "I had a really good time. It was a little rough weather, cold and windy with some rain, but the crowd was great. The fans were excited about watching those players."
Pashos was a four-year starter at Illinois from 1999-2002 and was part of an offense that posted the two highest scoring averages in school history with 32.5 points per game in 2001 and 32.3 in 1999. He remains an avid follower of the program as he checks scores every Saturday throughout the busy NFL season.
As coach, Pashos was responsible for a pregame pep talk, the coin toss and giving Coach Zook some advice on fourth down calls inside the red zone.
"If it's fourth-and-short my mentality is to go for it," Pashos said. "Fourth-and-long, I like to take the points. I kicked it to get some points, but we missed a couple of them."
More than 250 former Illini players were in attendance for the game. It's an annual tradition at the school to have two former players serve as honorary coaches.
"It was awesome to see all of the guys," Pashos said. "I remember the guys they brought back when I played there to coach during the spring game like Kevin Hardy and Dana Howard. I remember when I was their age and it was so weird to look at NFL guys when they would come back. They were sitting right here in these seats and they made it there. It's definitely a neat thing."
Pashos returned to campus after he was drafted by Baltimore in 2003 and spent time working out with the team during his first two offseasons. The two-time All-Big Ten honoree was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Jaguars in 2007. He has not made it back to a regular season game in Champaign since he graduated, but the memories remain.
"It was such a valuable time in my life," Pashos said. "Champaign is one of the most memorable and important places on Earth for me. Seeing all those faces and places again was special because they meant so much to me growing up."