One of the best things about the 24-21 Illinois victory over Ball State last Saturday was the return of junior wide receiver Mike Dudek. Dudek missed both the 2015 and the 2016 seasons for Illinois due to knee injuries. A disappointing situation for Dudek, as well as, Illinois players, coaches, and fans, given the success the receiver had as a freshman in 2014. That year, Dudek established Illinois single season freshman records in receptions (76) and receiving yardage (1038). He became only the eighth player in school history to gain 1,000 yards receiving in a single season. So, Dudek’s return to the football field after a 981 day absence was something that everyone interested in the Illinois football program awaited with eager anticipation. Dudek’s first catch was a 16 yard touchdown reception from quarterback Chayce Crouch that gave Illinois an early 6-0 lead. He also had a 52 yard punt return in the fourth quarter that led to Illinois’ game winning touchdown.
Dudek shared his feelings about returning to the football field: “It felt a little surreal. I had probably thirty family members and friends here watching, and to have me go out and make that first touchdown catch from one of my friends (Crouch)… It was a pretty surreal moment. It’s hard to explain how it felt. (But) I couldn’t be more thankful for that.”