Illinois football seniors leave Memorial Stadium the “Illini” way

By Charlotte Carroll, Sports editor

carroll-charlotteHow do you put into words the end of a four-year collegiate career?

“A blessing,” “an honor” and “looking to the future” were the common go-to phrases from Illinois seniors after Saturday’s 28-0 loss to Iowa.

But maybe that’s not enough.

Instead, maybe it’s punter Ryan Frain, one of the last Illini off the field just as “Hail Alma Mater” started to play. He headed straight to the locker room but did a twirl mid run, taking in one last look from the field.

Maybe it’s offensive lineman Joe Spencer, with tears visible under his helmet, also taking one last look, then making the sign of the cross on Grange Rock. He would later apologize to reporters for being emotional as he struggled to put together words in the post game press conference.

Maybe it’s quarterback Wes Lunt, looking like the usual Lunt, explaining the game and taking blame for the team.

Whatever it really is, four years on this Illinois team has been a lot.

It’s been filled with bad records, scandal and more administration changes than years these players spent on the field.

So Senior Day’s outcome shouldn’t have been surprising as it was everything the Illini have seemed to be.

From the blustery weather to the minimal number of fans to the play displayed on the field, the day went as expected.

It was all so Illinois as I’ve said countless times before.

At some point, someone up in the press box said, “Honestly, do we have to go down there?”

It was likely said in reference to the weather but also in part to how dismal the press conference following would be.

There would be no happy tears, no last win at home. This was a sad finale, the last way these players envisioned ending their Illini career at Memorial Stadium.

Regardless of the day, those words shouldn’t have to be said in relation to a Big Ten football team.

Being on the field has been one of my favorite aspects of the job. While the press box provides a great look, it’s no match for the feel of the crowd pulsing though you.

Maybe in a few years, the student journalists will be saying “when can we go down,” instead, but this Saturday, it was just a cold, sad reminder of how bad Illinois has been throughout my time here.

Blaming a group of college-aged athletes for how bad a team, as many have done on Twitter, is easy from the couch. Watching them in person, try to convey what the last game meant is different.

And for the players who’ve dealt with all the craziness these past years, it really was a Illinois way to go out.

Charlotte is a senior in Media.

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