CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois linebacker Milo Eifler is ready for the football season to begin and to get back on the field with his team. The team had helmet-only practices, but last week, they began practicing in pads.
For Eifler, who played his first season for Illinois as a junior last year, this is a big step toward getting back to normal.
“Just to get back in full swing with offense versus defense, going through all the motions and everything like that,” Eifler said. “There’s been great moments for the team and we’re just enjoying it, knowing that we’re going to play in about three weeks.”
Having these types of practices again has changed the team’s energy and makes this upcoming season feel the reality that it is.
“I felt that buzz around the team once we put the pads back on,” Eifler said. “Every practice I feel like there’s always some juice and energy because guys missed playing sports. They missed the game they love so much. They know that this is a chance that is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Eifler feels he is ready to play in a season that many, including himself, were not sure was going to happen.
Back in early July, Eifler was one of the players who spoke publicly about the dangers of playing football during a pandemic. After discussion about his concerns, he feels that it is a safe environment and is in agreement with the guidelines that have been set.
“It was the talks that me, [head coach Lovie] Smith and our athletic director Mr. [Josh] Whitman had and the protection that I feel with them,” Eifler said about his mindset change. “They’ve invested in us. They only want the best.”
He also noted that it is clear that the safety of the players is a priority, and Illinois has some of the best COVID-19 testing in the Big Ten.
The decision to play was very personal for Eifler, especially since it is his last year of eligibility. He has been working on his mentality and confidence, but now more than ever, he feels like he has a lot to prove.
“Of course everybody wants to get drafted and I feel like this opportunity with everything going on in the country, there will be a lot of eyes on the U of I football team this year,” Eifler said. “With all the great guys, the great transfers and the new team that we have, I feel like we have something special and it’s time to prove it.”
Last year, Eifler was a consistent starting linebacker for Illinois. Along with Jake Hansen, the two were key leaders of the defense. This year, Eifler is excited to see what younger players like Khalan Tolson and Delano Ware can bring to the field.
He’s also grateful for the chance to be playing again soon and to make the most of the opportunity.
“With everything that’s going on — there’s a lot with the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19, the election — if everybody can find time to focus in on one thing,” Eifler said, “and that is the goal to win each and every week, I feel like we have a chance to be really, really good.”