Illini fans share thoughts on spring practice


Illinois football held an open spring practice on Sunday. Community members came to watch the team run through practice drills and a scrimmage.

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

For many college football fans, their team’s open spring practice is the first look at the product they are going to see on the field come fall. At some programs, like Illinois, it is also a chance to interact with players and coaches.

On Saturday at Memorial Stadium, a crowd of Illinois supporters — which ranged from local families to alumni to current students — converged to see how the 2018 Illini are taking shape.

Chad Lewis, joined by his friend Eric Davis, came to spring practice for the second time in the Lovie Smith era. He noted that the crowd was much smaller than his first time, the spring Smith was hired, but attributed it mostly to the unseasonable, sub-freezing temperatures.

Both Lewis and Davis had positive takeaways from the day and hope to see improvement this upcoming season from a program that has finished 3-9 and 2-10 in its first two seasons under Smith.

“(Michael) Marchese, 42, he looked awesome; I was really impressed with him,” Lewis said. “Bobby Roundtree was all over the place (too).”

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Marchese had an interception off of current second-string quarterback Cam Miller.

While waiting in line post-practice to greet Smith, the pair shared hopes for significant progress this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a bowl bid just yet.

“I think five wins would be good, to me; getting that would be awesome,” Davis said.

Also in the line to greet Smith, which slowly wound its way down for about 30 minutes after practice, were Jeff and Lisa Knapp, with their grandchildren Ryder and Myles Coon.

For the Knapps, spring practice was a chance to spend time with their grandchildren and to meet the team up close.

“It was just a great outing to take our grandsons, being able to come out on the field and getting the autographs,” Lisa Knapp said. “The boys are super excited about that.”

Jeff liked the openness of the day and the accessibility that came with having a free spring practice.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever been on the field,” Jeff Knapp said. “It’s a nice gesture to let fans mix with the players and get autographs and spend the day out here.”

Ryder, 11, enjoyed seeing the Illini and noted that young kids can look up to the team for examples of how to play the sport.

“If you’re in little league football,” Ryder said, “you can learn from what (Illinois) is doing in football.”

For 7-year-old Myles, meeting the team was the highlight of the day.

“My favorite part is about the players,” Myles said. “They were nice and threw me catches.”

Students Manjesh Mogallapalli and Vivek Calambur were on hand to greet the Illini after practice as well.

The pair of computer engineering students expressed optimism about the program and spoke of some of the changes they noticed under Rod Smith’s new, more up-tempo offense.

“I definitely noticed that they were playing a lot of hurry-up,” Calambur said. “It was fun to watch, it will be cool to see.”

Like some of the other fans in attendance, Mogallapalli gave credit to Illinois for keeping practice freely accessible.

“Some other schools monetize this game, they sell spring game tickets, whereas (Illinois) just opened the door and said, ‘come on see what we’re about,’” Mogallapalli said. “I think it’s good and it speaks volumes about Lovie Smith and what he’s about.”

The two were able to converse with current starter Cam Thomas, and although they didn’t throw passes back and forth like some of the players did with young kids, Calambur said he enjoyed being able to see what Thomas was like in person.

To Mogallapalli, there is a sense of forward momentum that is building around Illinois, while the program has gone above and beyond to develop its relationship with fans.

“It seems like on social media that the #LittyvILLe thing is gaining a lot of traction,” Mogallapalli said. “Lovie Smith is over there signing autographs and taking pictures, it shows that no name is big enough, you still have to connect with your fans.”

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