CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Mike Epstein has been ready to go for more than a month. Coming off a season ending knee injury, the Illinois redshirt junior was a full participant at training camp in August before the Big Ten postponed the fall. That decision was overturned last Wednesday, with the league announcing the first games will kick off Oct. 24. Even though Epstein doesn’t want to wait, the Illini starting running back reflected during a Zoom call with media on Wednesday that the extra rest and recovery time has been good.
“Even though we all wanted to play as soon as possible, I think I can use this to my advantage and try to help my teammates the best way I can,” Epstein said.
Epstein is the clear cut lead back for the Illini, after Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown both graduated. The other guy with experience, Ra’Von Bonner, opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. That leaves Jakari Norwood and Kenyon Sims as the only other tailbacks who have carried the ball more than four times in a game. Western Michigan transfer Chase Brown transferred last August and became eligible mid-year. The brother of Illinois safety, Sydney Brown, played in four games, primarily on special teams, before redshirting. Freshman Reggie Love is also added to the mix.
“With a couple people leaving and another opting out, it provides a big opportunity for not only me, but a lot of people in the room,” Epstein said. “We all have to step up.”
Illinois continues to practice in helmets but still does not know when it will be able to go full pads. The team is waiting on the Big Ten to send its daily antigen testing before getting the green light to move forward with full contact. The Illini are scheduled to open the season Oct. 24 at Wisconsin.