CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — When Jake Hansen takes the field next month, he’ll do it with a better perspective of where he’s been and what’s ahead. The Illini’s new middle linebacker is thankful for the opportunity to suit up this fall, after the Big Ten green lighted the season on Wednesday.
“And to have it taken away and then given back to you, it just makes you appreciate it that much more,” Hansen said on a Zoom call with media on Friday. “Especially when you have other teams playing and friends that you have playing as well so I’m really excited.”
Hansen is itching to get the pads back on after missing the final four games of last season with an injury. The Illini struggled without him too, going 1-3 down the stretch including a 35-20 loss to Cal in the RedBox Bowl.
A late tweet Friday night, announced the matchups will be made public on Saturday morning. Despite not knowing who or exactly when they’ll suit up, the Illini have continued to practice without pads. Lifting and conditioning has also been a staple for the team the past five weeks working with Lou Hernandez, since the Big Ten postponed the season on Aug. 11.
“We feel very confident that our guys will be in good condition, strength wise, conditioning wise to be able to pick up full speed ahead practices and be ready for a season that will be a little bit different,” Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. “No bye week, so it’s going to be a long stretch of time but that’s why to me. Even when we paused our season, we continued to lift and do those things and I just know we’ll be ready.”