Big Ten

Return date unknown, Illini's Mike Dudek fighting through ACL recovery

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Return date unknown, Illini's Mike Dudek fighting through ACL recovery

CHAMPAIGN — Last season, Mike Dudek was one of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten. This season, he will have to work extremely hard just to get on the field.

Last year as a true freshman Dudek, a Naperville native and Neuqua Valley product, put together one of the best receiver seasons in Illinois football history, becoming just the eighth Illini ever to rack up more than 1,000 receiving yards in a single campaign.

But heading into his sophomore season, he tore his ACL during spring practice. It’s an injury that will obviously cost him significant playing time. And despite an optimistic diagnosis when the injury happened — head coach Tim Beckman said Dudek could be back by October — Dudek is still fighting through the disappointment of being sidelined as his teammates prepare for 2015.

“Of course I was down about it for a couple of days, a couple weeks. And I’ll think about it once in a while and get sad about it,” Dudek said Sunday during Illinois football media day. “But I’ve been trying to stay positive, as positive as I can, through it. There’s nothing I can do. It’s not like I was playing pickup basketball. I was out here playing football. It’s what we signed up to do. I’ve just been trying to remain positive toward it, attack rehab every day at 100 percent.”

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The injury and its requisite recovery time were made all the more disappointing because of just how good Dudek was last season and just how important he was expected to be for this Illini team. He caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns, ranking third in the Big Ten in receiving yardage. During conference play, he was the league’s top receiver in both receptions and yardage.

With quarterback Wes Lunt still yet to have a full season under his belt, Dudek would’ve been invaluable. Instead, he’ll sit out. And no one seems to know for how long.

“I’m trying to get back as soon as I can,” Dudek said. “If I get back for this season, good job, but if I don’t, I’m not going to be mad about it because it is an injury where you want to make sure you’re 100 percent because it could affect you in the long run.

“They say it’s like normally six to nine months, but it’s going quicker than that, hopefully. It’s going really well. I like to come in every day and have some new stuff I can do, just trying to get back as fast as I can, help the team.”

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While Dudek sits — whether for the season’s first month or the entirety of it — Illinois’ other receivers will have to step up. Geronimo Allison is the top candidate to receive the bulk of Lunt’s targets, and Beckman and the coaching staff couldn’t stop raving about true freshmen Sam Mays and Desmond Cain on Sunday, implying those two are in line to play a big role in their first season on campus.

Obviously, it will require a team effort, one Allison said has been orchestrated by Lunt.

“When it happened, Wes just came up to me and said, ‘We’ve got to turn it into another gear. Just pick up a little slack from Dudek being injured.’ He just switched gears,” Allison said. “The young guys, Sam Mays, Desmond Cain, freshmen guys came in and picked the offense up very fast. And the other guys that have been in the program a while now know the offense. Somebody has to step up and just play a role.”

“You’ve got to find somebody,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “That inside receiver, he’s really key. That’s where Mikey was so good. So we’ve got to find that guy, he’s got to be a twitch guy. I think Des has shown some possibilities. If Sam’s in there, it’s a little bit different in terms of routes, what routes we’d run utilizing his size. We’ve got to figure that out probably in the next five, six days. But we’re going to give a couple guys a chance at it and figure out where they can go.”

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While the team tries to find a stopgap measure that will help ease Dudek’s absence on the field, Dudek himself will have to fight off the disappointment of not being out there. He said this is the first time he’s missed a practice or game since he broke his collarbone in second grade. So you’ll have to excuse him if the experience isn’t exactly familiar.

“It’s tough. I was talking to (wide receivers) coach (Mike) Bellamy the other day about that. ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this.’ You just want to get out there and play, that’s just the competitiveness in you,” Dudek said. “So it’s been tough, but I’ve got a good support system here. I’ll get through it.”

Dudek is working diligently to recover, and he said sometimes he pushes a little too hard and has to remind himself to slow down. But while all that goes on behind the scenes, the fans and observers outside the program have just one question: Will Dudek be back this season?

“That’s a goal, of course, to come back and play. It’s just the competitiveness in me. I want to come play, I want to come help my team win,” Dudek said. “But you’ve got to realize you need your knee back to 100 percent. You can’t be out there in the Big Ten even at 99 percent. So I’m not trying to risk anything. I’m just going to listen to my doctors, and they’ll put me in the right direction.”

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.