Illini react to Big Ten season return, start of practice

Members+of+the+Illinois+football+team+practice+on+Sep.+17.+Their+season+opener+is+scheduled+for+Oct.+24+at+Wisconsin.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Glasgow / Fighting Illini Athletics

Members of the Illinois football team practice on Sep. 17. Their season opener is scheduled for Oct. 24 at Wisconsin.

By Josh Pietsch, Staff Writer

Wednesday’s announcement of Big Ten football returning this fall has the whole Illini team excited. Before that, however, it was a rough go for the team, which included watching other teams play and numerous amounts of uncertainty regarding their own season. 

Starting on Sept. 5, players from the Big Ten watched as teams from other conferences began their seasons while unsure if they would get to play at all this school year. Illinois offensive lineman Alex Palczewski said he did decide to watch, but that didn’t last long. 

“I watched a little bit, but as soon as the first quarter ended, I was cursing at the TV saying, ‘this is the worst,’” Palczewski said. “I just didn’t like it.” 

At the same time as week two of the college football season, speculation started surfacing surrounding a potential Big Ten fall start. Several unreliable sources began the speculation with rumors of the conference voting on no longer waiting until the spring to play. 

Dealing with the rumors on social media was another thing the players had to deal with, and though ignoring the conversation is hard to do, it was important for the players to not get caught up in it. 

“It was the worst (to deal with), the absolute worst,” Palczewski said. “I just stopped listening to it. … Everyone has a source and it’s gonna happen, I just put all that aside.” 

Despite multiple start dates discussed and days of speculation, the Big Ten announced Wednesday that their season would begin the weekend of Oct. 23-24. Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen shared his excitement to have the opportunity to play again and how much it meant to him and the team.

“I’m really excited,” Hansen said. “To have it taken away and then given back to you makes you appreciate it more, especially when you have other teams playing and friends that you have playing as well. I think it’s super important.” 

In order to play, athletic director Josh Whitman and the football coaching staff have made it clear that the players must make smart decisions to get through a season. Other than leaving for football, school and to eat, there won’t be a lot of outside activity for members of the team. 

One thing the players have been able to do, however, is play golf. Palczewski said golf is something he personally got into to pass the time and is an activity that he and the guys can do together. 

“It was first during the summer and some of the guys just invited me,” Palczewski said. “We can’t go out and can’t do much, but at least we can be with two or three other guys and get outside. Because if we’re in quarantine in our beds sitting in our rooms for 12 hours a day we’re gonna go crazy. So it really just helps.” 

Not only do the guys play golf together to pass the time, they’re doing much more together to get through all the unknowns. Before they knew of a season, they were all frustrated not having all the answers, but they worked together and improved so they would be ready to go when the time came.

“Obviously it was tough now knowing, but we would have lifts in the morning and did a good job combining groups,” Palczewski said. “Just knowing that this is such a big problem, but we can only control what we can control… Somebody’s gonna be getting better and it might as well be us.” 

Jake Hansen also noted that he and his teammates used each other to get through the mental side of things. There were a lot of people in much worse situations than they were, but the senior said they all had each other and their coaches to make sure everyone was OK and handling the time properly. 

“All of us teammates were going through the same thing. There’s a lot of stuff going on that’s worse than what we are,” Hansen said. “People could be fighting for their lives from the coronavirus, and we’re worried about playing a football game and worried about playing football, which seems pretty minuscule compared to the bigger picture. … So, in the same breath, using your teammates and other people who are also going through it, it’s very important. I used them a lot to get through it.” 

The Illini will now head back to gear up for longer practices and get ready for their season opener on Oct. 24 at Wisconsin. 

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