Illinois football excited to be on the right side of the homecoming crowd

Michelle+Tam

Michelle Tam

By Cole Henke, Staff writer

Illinois running back Kendrick Foster has walked out of the tunnel three times this season to the roar of a Homecoming crowd.

The stands were packed each game with family, friends, students and alumni decked out in school colors who came back to cheer on their favorite team.

But they weren’t cheering for Foster, or any of the Illini for that matter, and they weren’t wearing orange.

This season, Illinois has been Nebraska’s, Rutgers’ and Michigan’s Homecoming opponent.

But when Minnesota comes to Memorial Stadium next week, Illinois will finally get its opportunity to be the good guys in front of a Homecoming crowd.

“Homecoming is self-explanatory,” Foster said. “Alumni come back, and we want to show our alumni what kind of football team we are. Coach Smith is preaching that, and the staff is preaching that, and we need to come out guns blazing and play our game and finally perform to our potential.”

The Illini enter their Homecoming game following a two-game road stint, beating the Scarlet Knights but losing to the Wolverines.

Minnesota has won its last two games against Maryland and Rutgers.

The Gophers are a familiar opponent for the Illini on homecoming. This will be Illinois’ 106th Homecoming, and Minnesota has been the opponent 18 times — the most out of all of Illinois’ past homecoming opponents. The Illini are winning the series 9-7-1, with the 18th game to be played Saturday.

The last time the Illini played the Gophers on Homecoming was in 2014, when Illinois won to help secure a bowl bid for that season. Offensive lineman Joe Spencer was a sophomore that year, and he’s now prepping for his last Homecoming game.

“It will be nice to be back home in Memorial Stadium, especially for Homecoming,” Spencer said. ‘There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of guys coming back and former alumni, so that’s a special experience, especially for your senior Homecoming.”

Minnesota will be trying to do the same thing that Illinois has been trying to do the past few weeks — spoil the opponent’s Homecoming celebration, which has been done more often than not in the Illini’s 106-year Homecoming history: The Illini have an all-time record of 45-58-2 on Homecoming.

Linebacker Hardy Nickerson said that there was always a part of him that was trying to wreck Homecoming for the opponent the last few weeks, but he’s ready to finally have the crowd behind him.

“There’s a little bit of extra motivation to spoil the opponent’s Homecoming, but it’s no different really when you are at an opponent’s Homecoming,” Nickerson said. “But I’m looking forward to our Homecoming and putting on a show for our fans.”

Homecoming is all about tradition for Illinois. The first Illinois homecoming football game was held back in 1910. Nickerson is a graduate transfer, so his teammates have caught him up on some of the newer traditions that have started in recent years — like wearing the “Galloping Ghost” gray uniforms to every Homecoming game.

After playing three Homecomings this season, Foster is ready to embrace the Illini’s traditions and have their fans’ support.

“It is different because you have family here, and you have their whole Illini family here,” Foster said. “When you go to another homecoming it is you against them, and here you have everyone supporting you.”

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