Time is running out for Illinois football seniors

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Time is running out for Illinois football seniors

Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the seniors are trying to end their Illini careers on the right note.

Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the seniors are trying to end their Illini careers on the right note.

Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the seniors are trying to end their Illini careers on the right note.

Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the seniors are trying to end their Illini careers on the right note.

By Sean Neumann

Riding up to Memorial Stadium, Tim Beckman and Austin Teitsma share a conversation.

It’s a talk the coach has had with seniors multiple times in the past few weeks. Time is winding down for them, and Beckman knows what it means to lose the opportunity to play football.

“We’ve got 21 days left to be together,” Beckman said. “We can add days to that if we win football games.”

With three games remaining and two more wins needed to become bowl eligible, Beckman and his seniors are trying to prolong those conversations. Even if it means just one more game.

“I bring it up every now and then just so they realize sometimes football practice is not quite as tough when you think about how blessed you are to have the opportunity to play in the Big Ten and play college football,” Beckman said.

And Beckman knows how blessed an opportunity it is to play college ball. The former linebacker suffered a neck injury during his sophomore year at the University of Findlay that forced him from the game for good. Luckily, there was a backup plan: Beckman was offered a position as a student assistant on his team, leading him on the path to coaching.

“It’s sad,” were the first two words Teitsma said when thinking about his talk with Beckman. Then there was a pause before the senior defensive tackle continued. And if there’s anything Teitsma’s upbeat personality rarely allows, it’s a lull in conversation.

The senior said it has been difficult to talk about the year coming to an end.

“It’s been my life for five years,” Teitsma said. “This is all I’ve known.”

There’s seven seniors (four starters) leaving the defense after this season, including Teitsma.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said it’s an extra bonus for the seniors still fighting to be bowl eligible in mid-November.

“I think they understand it’s coming to a close,” Banks said. “Obviously having a chance to still play for something is great, but to be quite honest with you, because of these kids’ high character, even if it wasn’t, I think they would still be practicing extremely hard, just like they have been. So it’s only icing on the cake that we’ve got a chance to finish this thing the right way.”

Despite needing two wins in their next three games to stay alive, Beckman said he hasn’t noticed extra pressure on the seniors.

“They’ve got an opportunity,” Beckman said. “We want to continue to play together, and I want to be a part of these seniors as long as I can.”

For Teitsma, who experienced bowl seasons in his first two years at Illinois, the prospect of reaching a bowl game holds something more valuable than just a reward for his own hard work.

“It means we’re making strides as a program,” Teitsma said. “It means I’m leaving a legacy for the younger guys, because I want them to be successful, because they mean so much to me.”

And although Beckman’s ride with players like Teitsma is coming to an end, it’s clear the Illini have allowed the coach’s positive gratefulness to soak into their own outlook: There’s still time to enjoy it while it lasts.

“It is hard going forward, but I’m also excited because we have three more games,” Teitsma said. “I do have three more chances to go out there with my brothers and play the game, and hopefully get another fourth one.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @neumannthehuman.