URBANA (WCIA) — With every chance he gets on the field, Mike Epstein is making it count.
“Every moment when I’m out here and I’m practicing, I’m trying to go hard every single rep,” Epstein said.
After rushing for more than 400 yards his sophomore season, Epstein suffered a stress fracture in his right foot. He missed the last five games of last season and couldn’t participate in spring ball, meaning training camp is his first time back on the field in nearly year.
“I’m really not worried about or thinking about my foot, or anything I’ve had in the past,” Epstein said. “I’m just all about the future, the future is bright here, we’re doing the right things everyday and we’re trying to turn this thing around.”
Epstein knows all about bouncing back, he’s had three major injuries, including an ACL tear as a junior high school. As an Illini, his freshman season was also cut short by seven games due to a foot injury, but he still led the team with 346 rushing yards. Now he’s looking to make up for lost time.
“He feels like he’s missed something, something to prove,” Illinois running backs coach Mike Bellamy said. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder, so he’s one of those guys that you’re going to count on. Right now it’s exciting for everybody.”
Epstein has been practicing every other day with the Illini, but says he’s getting plenty of mental reps when he’s not in the huddle. It’s something he’s learned to do over the years of sitting out, including during spring ball this year.
“It was really good to go over it mentally first, and then physically doing it now it was a good progression.”
Come the season opener on Aug. 31 against Akron, Epstein hopes to pick up where he left off, but with a much bigger goal than just getting back on the field.
“In the end zone, that’s where I hope to be.”