Illini Football: Mike Dudek Comeback Critical to 2017 Success

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If you believe in karma, and you’re aware of the Mike Dudek story, then you no doubt believe that he’s due for some better fortune. Dudek wasn’t highly recruited coming out of Naperville (Neuqua Valley), but he busted out with a huge rookie season at Illinois, garnering first team freshman All-American honors in 2014.

He was known as Mikey Dudek then, and some today still refer to him as “Mikey,” but no matter what first name one uses, we can all agree that he’s a play-maker. He’s a dangerous wide receiver who stretches the field and gives Illinois the vertical passing game element that they have sorely lacked in the two years that he’s been absent.

Dudek is fine with you calling him both Mike or Mikey, by the way.

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2014 was the last time that Illini football reached a bowl game, and Dudek was a major reason why. The past two years, without a true deep threat to stretch the field, the Illinois passing “attack” hasn’t been very attacking at all. The passing game only mustered 174.6 yards per game last year, which ranked 109th out of 130 teams. They were 122nd last season in scoring (19.7 points per game) and in total offense 123rd and 315.1 yards per game.

They weren’t just ineffective, they also lacked in entertainment value. Perhaps Dudek can change that, but question marks surround him as well.

Since his breakout debut campaign, Dudek has suffered not one, but two ACL tears and hasn’t played a single snap. Thus all eyes of Illini football nation will be on him once camp opens as he continues his comeback, and completes the final step of his rehabilitation- finally playing again after a two season layoff.

At 2017 B1G Media Day, the Illini football contingent was very optimistic about both Dudek and the team overall itself. Illini football coach Lovie Smith said Dudek is 100% healthy and ready to go. Cornerback Jaylen Dunlap said Dudek ran a 4.3 40-yard dash this spring and pegged him to be the best wide receiver in the B1G.

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Offensive lineman Christian DiLauro said the young play-maker is in the best shape of his life. Smith added this during the ballroom session on dais:

My experience teaches me that when you have a major injury like that, you do everything you possibly can to get back. You work harder than maybe you would have before.

“I know Mike has been doing that. I’ve seen him go through the process every step along the way, when you’re out of sight, out of mind, I know right now, as far as his speed, which we’ve managed his strength, which we’ve had a chance to manage, he is back to where he was before.”

Later, in the breakout session, Smith said that Dudek will be eased in gradually, “on a snap count” or perhaps “every other day, or something like that.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV

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