CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — When Keith Randolph Jr. went down against UTSA, the worst scenario entered his mind after hearing a pop in his knee.
“Initially I thought it was my ACL,” Randolph Jr. said on Wednesday in his first media availability since getting hurt. “You could see me on the sideline saying, ‘Please God just don’t let it by my ACL, I didn’t know.’ I just thought all the hard work I put in to the season, I wouldn’t have a chance to show the world all the hard work I’ve put in.”
Fortunately for the Illini redshirt freshman defensive tackle, the injury wasn’t as serious as he initially thought. Randolph Jr. missed the next two games but returned on Saturday at Purdue, recording one tackle in limited action. The Belleville native started the season opener with a bang, finishing with two tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Watching from home was difficult for the 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman.
“That was my first time not traveling to away game since being here so it was different,” Randolph Jr. said. “It was hell, knowing I wasn’t there helping my team, that really hurt me a lot. The Purdue game wasn’t nothing crazy but I felt really good out there, it was great being back out there with my guys.”
Illinois hosts Charlotte Saturday at 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network. The 49ers are the second Conference USA team the Illini have faced this season, with a loss to UTSA in Week 2.