Hansen, Illini continue waiting game amid COVID-19


WCIA — In an uncertain world, Illini linebacker Jake Hansen doesn’t have any doubts about the future, even when the team can’t be together for spring ball.

“There was a stretch that (last) season where we felt like we could have beat just about anyone and I think that’s something that we’re going to carry through the season,” Hansen said during a FaceTime interview from his house in Florida recently. “And even though we’re not having it through spring ball and I think it’s just something were going to have to develop come summertime.”

Last season, Hansen led the country in forced fumbles, but missed the final four games of the season with an injury. He said he was feeling 100% heading into spring ball, but was planning to take limited reps. Now, the wait to get back on the field continues.

“It’s kind of like riding a bike, like you get back on and it’s still football, it doesn’t change,” Hansen said. “But at the end of the day I think we’re going to be okay, and in the end what it comes down to is getting the chemistry together as a team.”

Hansen will spend the rest of the semester back home in Florida, and with the team scattered around the country, spring ball looks a little different this year. Team meetings are taking place on video calls, and for those that can’t access a gym it means getting creative with home workouts, like using water jugs as weights. Head strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez is expecting the team to stay in shape even if they aren’t on campus.

“It’s so encouraging,” Hernandez said. “And I’m so proud to see that these guys are trying to find a way to continue to move in the right direction when it comes to training their bodies.”

“We’ll come back in good shape,” Hansen added. “But I think we’re a lot further ahead than we were last spring so, I’m excited about it.”

Hansen was third on the team in tackles with 72 last season. He helped the program make strides in head coach Lovie Smith’s fourth year. The Illini made a bowl game for the first time since 2014, but Hansen spent the RedBox Bowl on the sidelines. The rising senior hopes to get back to a bowl for his final season.

“We’re going to want to be more motivated to keep focused, and that will slingshot us into the fall,” he said. “In the end what it comes down to is getting the chemistry together as a team.”

Hansen hasn’t been on the field since November, but has every intention of picking up where he left off—even if the first rep of 2020 won’t be until the summer.

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