Brothers Josh, James Kreutz ready to bear down and do some damage at Illinois

Josh, the Illini’s starting center, and James, a redshirt freshman linebacker, are the sons of six-time Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz.

SHARE Brothers Josh, James Kreutz ready to bear down and do some damage at Illinois
Illinois football brothers Josh (left) and James Kreutz, the sons of former Bears center Olin Kreutz.

Illinois football brothers Josh (left) and James Kreutz, the sons of former Bears center Olin Kreutz.

Courtesy of Illinois athletics

Somebody on the defense kept chirping at Josh Kreutz.

Bad idea.

It was early on in Kreutz’s first preseason camp at Illinois, in 2021, and he was getting reps at center with the third team. Or was it the fourth team? It hardly matters. It was all newbies out there, and offensive line coach Bart Miller and first-year head coach Bret Bielema were having a look as Kreutz — the name sounds familiar, doesn’t it? — got into a lather.

“Somebody on the ‘D’ side just kept barking at him as he walked back the huddle, and Josh just had enough,” Miller recalled, laughing. “He turned around and wanted to meet the kid in the parking lot after practice. I had to try to bring him back into the moment — ‘we’re trying to practice, man’ — but I was smiling. That was my first impression of him.

“But that type of scrap with Josh or James, it shouldn’t surprise you.”

That’s because Josh, now a sophomore and the Illini’s starting center, and James, a redshirt freshman linebacker with a strong chance to be in the two-deep, are the sons of former Bears center and six-time Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz. Short fuses kind of are the family business.

“They like to hit people,” Miller said, “just like their mentor in the game.”

The same size — 6-2, 290 — as his old man, Josh spends exactly zero time wishing he were as large as his linemates and other centers around the Big Ten. He is strong, explosive and athletic and, as Miller puts it, “plays with an edge.” Again, sound familiar?

“I work with the tools that God gave me,” he said. “It’s fine.”

It’s better than fine, if you ask Bielema.

“How tough, how smart and how dependable he is, the size thing doesn’t even really matter,” Bielema said. “He’s really the DNA that I look for. DNA is a strong thing, man.”

When Illinois was recruiting James — a year behind Josh at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, where the brothers played for former Illini star John Holecek — Bielema popped on the film and was gobsmacked by one of the first things he saw.

“James literally annihilated this guy on a pull that was committed to another Big Ten school,” Bielema said. “So I asked Josh about it and he goes, ‘Coach, he literally looks up the opposing team and finds out who’s their most heavily recruited player, and he tries to kill that kid.’ Oh, man, that made me laugh.”

James, too, is a bit undersized (6-0, 225) for his position, but so what? The topic doesn’t even register with these guys. The Kreutz boys live together, eat together, train together and are more than A-OK with the idea of kicking the crap out of some college football opponents together.

“We’re always together,” James said. “It’s nice. We have each other’s backs.”

Once Josh committed to Illinois, James was going to follow him. Lately, though — and understandably — the more talked-about Kreutz topic is Josh attempting to follow in their father’s footsteps. Doesn’t that come with a lot of pressure? And how much of it comes from dad himself?

“No, no, I’ve never felt that kind of thing from him,” Josh said. “I mean, it’s definitely just helped to have him as my dad. I get a lot of information. I learned a lot about the game growing up. Working out, learning techniques, learning film, learning how to do all that stuff throughout my life has been really helpful.”

Olin wasn’t one of those high school sports parents who sat on the bleachers and burned with such intensity, it made others uncomfortable. Aren’t those people the worst?

Then again, Olin wouldn’t even go near other parents at games. As James tells it, he’d stand just beyond the end zone so he could focus and not be bothered by anyone.

Olin Kreutz during his time with the Bears.

Olin Kreutz during his time with the Bears.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bielema almost never hears from Olin, which is good and how it should be. But one early offseason morning, Bielema was looking out of his office window and saw two loving brothers walking slowly across a football field, shoulder to shoulder, leaning in and talking close like there was no one else in the world.

“It kind of moved me,” Bielema said, “so I took a video and sent it to Olin.”

Here’s what Bielema wrote: “Hey, I know you got to see this their entire lives growing up, but I just got to witness it. I couldn’t be more proud of who these guys are.”

Did their dad reply? Oh, yes. He texted, “You tell me if you need anything out of them. They’ll give you what you need every day.”

It makes Bielema chuckle now.

“I was trying to be sentimental,” the coach said. “Olin doesn’t want to go there. He wants it to be about getting things done.”

That’s how the Kreutzes do it. The fuse is lit. It’s time to hit somebody.

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