CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois quarterback Art Sitkowski will suit up in his last college football game at the ReliaQuest Bowl. Illini head coach Bret Bielema said the fifth-year player will not return to the roster next season as a player but hinted he may join the coaching staff, possibly as a grad assistant.
“Ironically no,” Bielema said when asked if he was leaving the program. “But he’s not going to be playing.”
Sitkowski has spent two years in Champaign after transferring from Rutgers, playing in eight games for the Illini, primarily as a back-up. The New Jersey native appeared in three games this season in relief, taking over in the Iowa game and leading Illinois to a 9-6 win after starter Tommy DeVito got injured.
With Sitkowski out of the mix for next season, Illinois only has two scholarship quarterbacks on the books right now and none with any game experience in college. Donovan Leary will be a redshirt freshman while Cal Swanson will be a true freshman. Yes, a transfer portal quarterback (or two) are coming but that’s still yet to be determined. Sitkowski would have at least been an experienced presence in the room.
Illinois practiced for the third time Saturday before its annual year-end banquet at the IHotel in Champaign. Several Illini will likely face opt-out decisions, most notably potential first round draft pick Devon Witherspoon. He was rated the 24th-best prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft by Mel Kiper Jr. this week. Both senior captains Alex Palczewski and Sydney Brown said they will respect whatever decision their teammates make, with even Brown thinking about sitting out.
“It’s extremely hard because I don’t want to be selfish,” Sydney Brown said. “I’m a captain of this team and there’s nothing I want more than to do than to be here for this program and the guys on this team. I’d do anything for this program and I don’t feel like I’ve made a selfish decision yet. At the end of the day I’ve got to do what’s best for me.”
“Whatever guys want to do, I’m going to support them 100 percent,” Palczewski said. “Everyone on this team has put their body on the line the entire season and if they feel like it’s in their best interest not to play, I’ll still support them.”
Illinois faces No. 22 Mississippi State Jan. 2 in the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa.