CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — What started as a simple way to get some exercise and bring Illini Nation together has turned into one of the most unique traditions for any college athletic director in the country.
“Look at the end of the day I’m just a regular guy that likes to go out and jog,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said.
Except it’s not every day that you can pick the brain of a Power 5 AD.
“I try to be pretty open with people when we’re running and it’s kind of open mic so to speak with Josh,” Whitman said.
The idea started with a tweet back in 2016 before the first Illini football game of the Lovie Smith era.
“I thought, you know what, let me just see what happens if I put this out on Twitter and see if people show up,” Whitman said.
Three years later and the Illini Game Day Run Club is several dozen strong. The four plus mile run always starts and ends at the southeast corner of Hessel Park, looping around several major campus landmarks including the Alma Mater. Champaign native and 1978 Illini alum Mike Staggs has been to nearly every one, making the trip from his home in Wisconsin.
“You know most athletic directors are busy on game day with all kinds of meetings and such but he comes out here and runs with anyone that wants to show up,” Staggs said.
The group has been as big as about 50 people. They run about nine minutes miles and always have donuts at the end, compliments of Josh. They even took the show on the road for the USF game in Chicago last year, running by Wrigley Field. It’s all part of a bigger race Whitman is running as he tries to rebuild Illinois’ two major money making sports. Brad Underwood’s men’s basketball team is 26-39 in two seasons, while Lovie Smith’s football team is 11-28 overall and 4-23 in the Big Ten in Year 4.
“We’ve just got to continue to grit our teeth and work thru the hard moments and overcome adversity and keep our eyes focused on the big goal.”