TAMPA, Fl. (WCIA) — The Illini get their first look at Raymond James Stadium. The team made a trip north from their downtown hotel to the home of the Bucs Wednesday for a team photo and a little time touring the facilities.

This area is nothing new for several of the Illini players from the Tampa-St. Pete area, most notably Johnny Newton. The All-American defensive lineman grew up not far from here and he is more than ready for the chance to suit up so close to home.

“I just thought of 60 tickets, bringing my whole family to the game,” Johnny Newton said.

Returning to the Tampa Bay area would’ve been special enough for Johnny Newton and his family, but the Illinois defender has an extra bundle of joy in tow. As Jovianne Newton was born November 17, two days before Newton suited up against Michigan.

“It was perfect timing for me. It’s really tiring but it’s worth every second of it, waking up in the middle of the night changing diapers,” Newton said. “I feel like her mom’s the best mother she could’ve asked for and I’m just there riding her coattails, helping her out. It’s really amazing the experience, I love everything about it.”

Call it dad strength or the baby bump, Newton had one of his best game of the season in the Big House with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Between pressuring the quarterback and changing diapers, Newton has kept his play at an All-American level.

“I give hats off to Johnny, for him to be an absolute baller and to be dealing with his baby girl, bringing the same energy every day, you gotta be one of a kind to do something like that,” Illinois defensive lineman Keith Randolph said.

“We didn’t know when his daughter was going to come, so we actually had conversations going all the way back to this past Fall about how we’ll handle the moment and move forward,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said. “Johnny’s a very mature, very established football player and he demonstrates the same thing off the field as well. Really excited for him.”

It’s sure to be an emotional week in the Sunshine State because of a loaded schedule between practice and school, the bowl game will be the first time Newton’s parents will meet their granddaughter.

“I mean, going back home my baby finally gets to meet all my family members,” Newton said. “My parents haven’t met her yet, my brother. It’s a tough ride, but going back home she can’t fly yet, but it’ll be worth it so my family members can meet her.”

Johnny is one of 18 Illini who are from Florida, including seven starters on a defense that ranks first in the nation in scoring. Plenty more to come from Tampa the next few days including our hour long Your Illini Nation Bowl Special in primetime Thursday from seven to eight on WCIA 3. Hope you can join us then as we get ready for Monday’s game against Mississippi State.