CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Saturday’s game against Iowa is not only Homecoming, but also the annual Senior Day celebration. Despite the unique circumstances the year has presented, a number of fourth-year players on the Illinois football team will be honored.
Many of this year’s seniors were recruited by head coach Lovie Smith after he took the position in 2016, playing a role in shaping the Illinois football program.
“They set the tone for Illinois football for a long period of time,” Smith said. “They’re an example of how we want to do everything on and off the football field.”
While the team was not as successful as anticipated, they still have at least three more games to make their mark.
“There’s some things that this group has not accomplished. Our next two [scheduled] opponents we haven’t beaten in our time together here. This week it’s going to be neat to acknowledge them, but a way we can really send them off right is to get them their first win against Iowa,” Smith said.
Beating the Hawkeyes might be the only thing on the minds of the Illini this week. The last time the two teams faced each other in Champaign, Iowa won 63-0.
Redshirt-senior Josh Imatorbhebhe was not on the Illinois roster for that game, but the University of Southern California transfer is still determined to get the win. He’s been so focused on practice and beating Iowa this week that he said Senior Day isn’t at the front of his mind.
Imatorbhebhe is waiting for the feelings to come in the moment, saying it will be special for him to celebrate with his brother Daniel.
“Sometimes you don’t really realize the moments that you’re in,” Imatorbhebhe said. “Hopefully I can gain greater appreciation at that time to appreciate ending things here with my brother.”
On the other hand, quarterback Brandon Peters, who transferred from Michigan, is ready to celebrate his achievements both on and off the field.
“It’s definitely something I can enjoy because I’ve graduated twice now,” Peters said. “Looking back on my struggles at Michigan, I went through a lot there academically just to be able to get to this point to play at Illinois. I actually just finished up my grad program five weeks ago here at Illinois, so it’s a special moment. Something that you should cherish as a player to highlight the challenges you’ve been through.”
Even though this is only Peters’ second year as an Illini, he has had a large impact. Smith credited his leadership and acknowledged how much he has meant to the team.
Smith is also grateful for all of the transfers who will be celebrated on Saturday, even if they were not there for four years.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to get some older players who fit right in with our culture and what we want, so if we talk about the seniors, we’re talking about everyone,” Smith said. “They’ve gotten to this senior year a lot of different ways, from a lot of different places, but they bought into what we’re doing. Each one of those guys have contributed to our program and I know they’ve gotten an awful lot from the University of Illinois too.”