CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — They’re the heartbeat of the University and pride of the Illini. We’re talking about the Big Ten band that calls U of I home.

The Marching Illini is a group of 400 students that put in hundreds of hours throughout the fall.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of people that understand how much time goes into this,” Barry Houser, the band’s director, said.

So, WCIA is going behind the scenes and showing you what happens to bring the halftime shows to life.

“My game day typically starts about two and a half hours before the Marching Illini call time,” Poorna Kumar, one of the drum majors, said.

Some days it’s an alarm going off at 7 a.m. and other days, even sooner.

Every single Marching Illini rehearsal starts with “Oskee from the hold.”

Then, Kumar leads the band in “game day stretches” with other drum majors, Matthew Felbein and Alex Hall.

After getting warmed up on the field, it’s time for the fun stuff, like running through the traditional pre-game show with Houser looking over every move.

From running pre-game to going through the halftime show and Three-in-One, Houser is like the king looking over his castle to keep the band going along the way.

Houser is the one writing the drill formations you see on the field.

“I have to plot each person like an individual GPS for each band member,” Houser said. “I use computer-aided software, chart all of that out based on their section.”

He’s steering the ship, making sure each musician is ready for every performance of the day.

For the students, Marching Illini is a lot more than just marching in an 8-to-5 formation. It’s also all about life skills.

“You just have a bunch of instant built in friends and they really help you navigate college,” Kumar said.

Houser hears a lot of feedback from graduates, about how band prepared them for their post-grad careers.

You have to be on your toes every second of game day, especially when it’s time for the first performance of the day. That happens at Grange Grove as the football team enters Memorial Stadium.

Then, it’s back to the Armory and time for “march out.” One of Houser’s favorite parts of the day.

“There’s hundreds of fans that line the streets,” he said.

Notes and rhythms don’t stop there. The band marches through the South Tunnel and heads onto the field for their traditional pre-game show.

The Marching Illini are always ready to spread the sweet sounds of the orange and blue for thousands of fans in the stands.

About 12-14 hours later, the musicians rack up anywhere from 20,000 – 30,000 steps and wrap up game day. Then, it’s time to prepare for the next halftime show with daily rehearsals and extra individual practice time to get the music memorized.

If you miss the group at an Illini game, you can watch them this Sunday, Oct. 8 at the State Farm Center. They take the stage at 3 p.m. They used to perform at the arena every year until renovations in 2013. This is the band’s first time back since then.

Tickets are still available at this link.