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‘Help the team in whatever way possible’: Kramer reflects on isolation, returning to play

“It was awesome to be back out there.”

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Doug Kramer didn’t expect his senior season to start this way. The Illinois center missed the games against Purdue and Minnesota due to COVID-19 contact tracing protocol.

After his roommate, quarterback Brandon Peters, tested positive, Kramer stayed in a hotel to isolate. With a lot of time on his hands, he played Xbox, rewatched The Office and slept.

Kramer stayed engaged by having Zoom meetings and watching film. He also used the time to prepare to face Rutgers. Kramer returned and started in Saturday’s win, the Illini’s first of the season.

“It was awesome to be back out there,” Kramer said. “It was a tough two weeks watching from the hotel room. That didn’t go as planned and as I wanted, but you’ve got to just roll with what happens now due to the coronavirus and try to do the best you can when you get back.”

Kramer watched his team on the TV in his hotel room as they faced two conference opponents — both losses — reacting to the games like fans at home.

“There was a lot of excitement to see some of the other guys that had to step up because we were out,” Kramer said. “It was fun to watch those guys, but there were nerves and excitement — the same sort of things that everyone else feels.”

While he was happy for his teammates, his initial emotion was anger. Having to sit out was difficult for Kramer, who is a leader and captain for the Illini.

“It just is the way it has to be and you don’t really have a lot of control. You can do all the right things and all it takes is one positive test and four guys who have been doing the right thing the entire time since we came back have to sit out for two games in their senior season, which is extremely disappointing, but you can’t let things like that take over your mind.”

It was especially difficult to sit out after losing to Wisconsin in Week One. Kramer was prepared and ready to face Purdue the next weekend. It wasn’t until the meeting on Thursday that he found out he would not be able to play.

The news hit Kramer “like a brick wall,” but he told his offensive line teammates to step up and try to win the next two games.

For an offensive line that has consisted of the same key players for several years, it was a unique challenge to have different players at the position.

“We’ve had pretty consistently the same five guys or same four guys be in for most of the time,” Kramer said, “but we have all the confidence in the world with the young guys stepping up. I think they have shown that they can step up and they’ve looked pretty good doing it, so we’ll see what happens in the future.”

Returning to a 0-3 team, Kramer used his veteran leadership to motivate the Illini and contribute to their first win of the season. He hopes to keep having an impact and a positive mindset throughout the rest of the season.

“We really just wanted to come back, bring the energy and try to help the team in whatever way possible,” Kramer said. “I think last week showed it, but moving forward even from here you know we have to keep doing it.”