‘Hype’ builds around intramural football

Carol Matteucci

Carol Matteucci

By Sultan Abdul-Ahad

It’s a warm August afternoon in 2002 on the east side of Memorial Stadium. While the football team is having practice, there are five walk-ons on the sideline talking with each other and observing the football team.

Two years later, these five ex-walk-on players and four other players would combine to create the “Hype.”

The “Hype” is the nickname of the intramural football team that is on a mission to win the intramural championship.

When healthy, the Hype consists of nine juniors: Michael Burger, Deandre Cooley, Illini Media employee Ian Gold, Lindsey Fleming, Thomas Smiley, Jeremiah Lehde, Tim Splant, Matthew Swearingen and Paul Zurn.

The five players who used to be walk-ons are Gold, Splant, Smiley, Lehde, and Cooley.

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How did they come up with the nickname, the Hype?

“It came from Slim Shady records – ‘can you believe the hype is real’ – and basically because all of us played football at some point in our lives,” said Splant, a wide receiver and defensive end.

Every member of the Hype has played high school football and received an all-conference selection for the sport.

The Hype plays its games at the athletic fields across the street from the six-pack on First Street.

While five of the nine players did play on the Illinois football team together, most members of the Hype met during their freshman year.

“I met most of the guys at PAR during my freshman year – at football practice and at second semester, we all lived in Blaidsdell on the first floor,” said Smiley, a wide receiver and defensive back.

While five of the players did walk on at the same time, they quit at different times during the past couple of years.

Four of the five guys that did leave the team left because of academics.

“For a semester, I walked on and then my grades got bad, so I dropped it,” said Cooley, a wide receiver and cornerback.

“Classes were hard and football was very time-consuming,” Lehde said. “I just didn’t have enough time to study.”

The Hype has a record of 4-0. The team has outscored its four opponents by a combined score of 161-12.

All four of the team’s wins have come through the intramural mercy rule. That rule comes into effect when a team is beating its opponents by at least 19 points with two minutes remaining in the game.

In the Hype’s third game of the regular season, the team scored its first touchdown of the game on the second play. None of the team’s drives in that game took more than three plays.

The team’s opponents, on the other hand, got their only points of the game on an interception that was returned for a touchdown at the end of the first half. They couldn’t get any offense all of their drives ended in an interception or a punt.

The final score of that game was 46-6; Swearingen ended the game with two interceptions. Center and defensive end Lehde did not play in that game and another game because of a foot injury.

“It was something that came up in the same foot that had a stress fracture in high school,” he said.

In their last game of the season, the Hype did not have an easy time with their opponents. The guys got off to a very sluggish start. Quarterback Gold got sacked and had a pass batted down on the first drive alone.

Throughout the game, the Hype’s opponents had chances to score, but their receiver let a sure touchdown pass slip through his fingers and they couldn’t score when they were in the Hype’s territory.

On that drive, the Hype’s opponents turned the ball over on downs and the team went down and scored the last touchdown of the game. The final score was 21-0.

During its last two games of the regular season, the Hype’s players were very relaxed. They were high-fiving, celebrating and giving each other a hard time over a bad play. They have that confidence and swagger that a good team has.

This team even has a couple of fans. One of them is Dominic Shafer, a current walk-on and back-up punter for the Illinois football team. In the last two games, he was on the sideline having the most fun out of anyone.

In the third game of the regular season, Shafer was sending signals to Gold. To make it even more believable, Gold was actually looking over to the sidelines. If people didn’t know better, they might have thought the Hype was having plays signaled in from the sidelines.

In the team’s most recent game, Shafer was doing the same thing, except there was one difference.

“As you see, this week, I have the headset,” Shafer said.

Of course, it was just a headset for a cell phone.

By this time next year, the Hype could be a very different team. Splant and Smiley are planning on returning to the varsity football team.

“I miss playing football in general. I miss the team concept and just being with the guys,” said Smiley.

The other players who were on the team before have decided to permanently stay off the varsity squad.

With the Hype’s regular season completed, the playoffs are on the horizon. Most of the players consider the “West Cannan Coyotes” their toughest opponent. The Coyotes are comprised of varsity baseball players.

“I anticipate us playing them before the championship game,” said Smiley.

The Hype and the Coyotes, did play in the playoffs last year with the Coyotes coming out on top. This year could be a different story.

“If we get past the Coyotes we have a good chance of going all the way,” said Zurn, a middle linebacker for the Hype and a club rugby player.

Fleming’s expectations about winning the championship are greater.

“I think we have the best shot,” he said.