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Illinois players ‘excited’, ‘nervous’ about return to campus

The Illini leaders set the tone for a return via a zoom video call.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

There is finally a plan set in place to return Illinois athletes to campus as early as June 3. As the football season (if it starts on time) rapidly approaches, all focus turns to the Illini as they attempt to prepare for the uncertain 2020 season.

Senior leaders Jake Hansen, Kendrick Green and Nate Hobbs met the media via a Zoom call on Wednesday to discuss their feelings and concerns regarding the plan for a voluntary return to campus.

It seems the consensus among the Illini’s leaders is a feeling of both excitement and worry as a potential season approaches.

“A lot of excitement,” Hobbs said, “but at the same time a lot of curiosity.”

Hobbs, a leader of the 2020 secondary, proudly talked about how much the defensive backs have taken advantage of their allotted time to meet.

“We’ve learned the play book in depth a lot more,” Hobbs said.

Once the players are back on campus and have cleared their initial tests and quarantine, they will be allowed to engage in voluntary workouts in small groups. When it comes to the details of the workouts that will be available, Hansen, the linebacker who missed the end of 2019 due to injury, was quick to point out some unanswered aspects of the plan.

“Am I going to be able to get the quality work in that I would be able to usually get during this time in the summer?” Hansen asked. “If we are able to do that at Illinois, then by all means I’m going to be at Illinois as soon as possible.”

Although the circumstances may not be ideal, Green expressed that this is for the benefit of the team and returning to campus may set the tone for other players to do the same.

“The plan that’s been put together, we’re going to get tested and quarantined and tested again,” Green said. “We’re going to be by ourselves isolated in literally a dorm room for some time. Nobody wants to do that, but for me, it’s all about riding for the brand. If it’s for the boys and the greater of the team, I’m with it 100% all the way. I think a lot of guys need to come back.

“With me being a leader, if I’m not coming back and doing the same thing and going through the same struggle with them, how can I expect them to do it?”

The best leaders look out for those around them, and it seemed that both Hansen and Green were prioritizing the needs of everyone.

Hansen also discussed how he hopes returning raises the team’s morale.

“Finally, to hear there were plans being made to get us back there, it’s like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to a degree,” Hansen said. “We’re not completely out of this, obviously yet, but it’s super exciting to be able to get back with the guys as soon as we’re able to and as soon as it’s the right time for each person.”

Green, on the other hand, talked about both the cooperation necessary and the fact that it is optional for any and all players.

“I think if everyone follows the guidelines, it’s going to work really well for us,” Green said. “But it is all optional, and guys are going to do what’s best for them. At the end of the day, you can’t be upset with anybody for that. I think we’re going to have the majority of the team coming back to get together for the summer, though.”

This is all simply about the return to campus, but what about playing games in front of no fans, which is another possibility — and potentially very likely part — of this plan.

“I think the crowd does do something to the game of football,” Hobbs said. “There’s a certain energy that comes from that and that energy won’t be there.”

But at the end of the day, this is the first step in the right direction to getting a clean-shaven Lovie Smith back on the field coaching the Illini.

“You can’t get too excited,” Hobbs said, “and you can’t get too upset.”