NORMAL — Illinois State offensive lineman Chris Riley would rather someone else do the talking.
Fellow Redbird tackle Dane Zumbahlen is only too happy to oblige.
“He’s a social butterfly, he certainly is,” Riley said with a chuckle. “I don’t like to talk too much. I leave the big stuff to American Idol over here.”
“All the fires I start,” said Zumbahlen, “he puts out.”
The distinctly different personalities have served ISU’s seniors well with both in their third year as starters.
“They are definitely opposites,” Redbird offensive line coach George Barnett said. “Dane is on one side of the meeting room and Chris is on the other. There’s certainly a more vocal response on one side.”
Zumbahlen and Riley helped clear the way for tailbacks Ashton Leggett and Erik Smith to both surpass 100 yards rushing in last week’s 34-24 triumph over North Dakota State as ISU totaled 287 yards on the ground.
The Redbirds face 19th-ranked Northern Iowa in a 4:05 p.m. game Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
“We call Dane Mr. Redbird around here. He’s very vocal and enthusiastic about ISU and the football program here,” said head coach Brock Spack. “I really like him. He’s pleasant to be around. When you get down, he gets up.
“Chris is more a leader by example. He comes to work every day and doesn’t miss practice. He’s a really good athlete for a lineman.”
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Zumbahlen, who has been known to sport unconventional hairstyles and break into song without provocation, said he gets his boisterous, fun-loving nature from his father, Jay, who played football at Southern Illinois.
“I try to have fun and keep these guys loose at the same time,” said Zumbahlen, a native of Morris who was originally a tight end at ISU. “Every game is a big game and guys start to tighten up. It’s all about relaxing and staying upbeat and having fun at the same time.”
The 6-5, 305-pound Riley appreciates Zumbahlen but doesn’t try to be like him.
“I’m the guy in the background just kind of chugging along,” said Riley, a product of Warren Township High School. “Dane gets everybody going. We’re silent but deadly. I’m silent and he’s deadly.”
Zumbahlen has started 25 consecutive games and Riley 23, the two longest streaks on the team.
“Chris has really improved on being consistent and accountable every day in what he does,” Barnett said. “The steadiness of those two has really helped the group get better.”
Spack doesn’t mind Zumbahlen’s occasional quirkiness.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to be a goofball,” said the ISU coach. “My old mentor Joe Tiller would say ‘sometimes when you’re walking through life you’ve got to step aside and smell the roses.’
“Having a kid like that kind of brings that back to light. We’re all just big kids really.”
Some kids — Zumbahlen and Riley would concur — are bigger than others.