CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) – As Illinois football gears up to face Mississippi State at the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, many Illini fans across Central Illinois are making the trip down for the Jan. 2 game too.

We thought we might share a few of their stories, and why supporting the Illini is so important to them.

Courtesy: Chris and Rosemary Snow

Chris Snow and his mother Rosemary of Langleyville have been lifelong Illini fans, but have never attended a bowl game.

“Growing up with four brothers that played football and my uncle Ed working at the U of I got me interested in being an Illini fan,” said Rosemary. “ I am a proud Illini fan, win or lose. I have watched many players and coaches play the game since the early ’80s. The thrill of just sitting in the stands next Monday in Tampa will be totally awesome.”

Chris bought their tickets through the Illinois Athletics portal soon after they went on sale.

“It will be great to see my mom’s reactions to the experience of the game,” said Chris. “I started going to games at Memorial Stadium with her when I was four. Now, I enjoy taking my children to games and seeing them start to become loyal fans as well. My mom and are excited to attend the bowl game.”

Courtesy: Ashleigh Cadle

Ashleigh Cadle was raised in Champaign but now lives in Panama City, only five hours away from the game.

“Our whole family are avid Illini fans,” said Cadle. “When we moved to Florida just before the season started, we were bummed we weren’t going to see a game in person. When we found out the bowl game was in Tampa, there wasn’t even a question if we would go.”

Courtesy: Alan Watkins

Alan Watkins of Mattoon was a manager of the 2001 Illini football team that went to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and watched the Illini play in the 2008 Rose Bowl with his brothers. Now, he is ready to attend his third bowl game wearing his orange and blue.

“I remember going to games as a kid and watching Simeon Rice play,” said Watkins. “I’m excited to see Coach Bielema take this team to the next level consistently. My wife and I are planning to spend the week in Florida for the game.”

Courtesy: Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith, who grew up in Decatur and lives in Mahomet, became an Illini fan on Sept. 10, 1994, at his first game watching the Illini defeat Mizzou 42-0.

“Going to this bowl game was a no-brainer,” said Smith. “A warm weather game in January is obviously a plus, but this team absolutely deserves the support of its fans. The team far exceeded pre-season expectations for many of us, and there’s no better way to support them than joining them in Tampa.”

Courtesy: Deanne Woodward

Deanna Woodard of Tuscola has been a season ticket holder and IFund member for over 25 years.

“I love Illini football,” said Woodard. “I’m looking forward to watching the Illini beat Mississippi State, the warm weather, and spending time with my son Blake who will be traveling from Jacksonville, Florida.”

Jill Tichenor of Monticello is not only an Illini fan but also a U of I alum.

“My husband and I have been avid football tailgaters since 1984,” said Tichenor. “We want to support the Illini and think the program is headed in a positive direction. We hope to see a lot of orange and blue there in Florida to support the Illini football program.”