Illinois wide receiver Mike Dudek will miss the entirety of the upcoming season after tearing his ACL during spring practice.
For the second straight season, Dudek's would-be sophomore season has been wiped out in the spring. He tore the same ACL he did last season — in his right knee — again on a non-contact drill during spring practice.
New Illini head coach Lovie Smith broke the news to reporters after practice Friday.
"The game can sometimes be cruel," Smith said. "Mike Dudek, significant knee injury. He'll have season-ending surgery next week. It's unfortunate. The guy worked himself pretty hard to get back in position. But injuries happen.
"ACL injury, which is unfortunate. But nowadays, you have successful surgery, you can come back as strong as ever. And that's what we're expecting from him. ... He'll be on the road to recovery before you know it."
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It's the absolute worst luck possible for a receiver who emerged as one of the team's best players during his freshman season in 2014. Dudek had one of the best campaigns by an Illini wideout ever, catching 76 passes for 1,038 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Last season, Dudek was expected to be a major contributor on offense after Wes Lunt and Reilly O'Toole split time at the quarterback position during the 2014 season. But then came Dudek's first ACL tear, the first of many injuries to offensive playmakers last year.
Then-head coach Tim Beckman was initially optimistic about Dudek's timeline, saying in the program's injury announcement last spring that Dudek could return by October. But that didn't happen, and Dudek didn't play at all last season, earning a medical redshirt.
Now Dudek has to battle all the way back once more.
"It's tough. He worked himself pretty hard to get back out here," Smith said. "He was pretty excited about this season. He's had to come back before, so he knows the routine, and he'll be back.
"He takes what he does seriously. You can tell he's a great competitor, great guy, liked by his teammates. Of course everybody's feeling for him. But they all know him, too. They know the type of guy (he is). It's not like he's feeling sorry for himself. This process, you have to go through it, and he'll go through it."