“I always don’t look at bowl games just as finals and the last moment with your team — your roster, your players, your coaches. For the past season it is more of a jump start for the future. I can’t tell you how many times a player shows up and in bowl practice that wasn’t really on your radar, or a player shows up in a bowl game that didn’t get a chance in the season. That will also be a nice kick start to 2023, a year ago we were missing a game and to be where we are this year is a step in the right direction. We were four games away from being in the biggest entertainment you can have this year, having two teams in the playoffs is what you dream of. Being a part of ReliaQuest and Jim McVay and the city of Tampa is going to be very big for us personally and for our team at this time of year a great opportunity to play Mississippi State – a very talented team, a team with a very talented quarterback , his defense e doesn’t get enough credit. I’ve been watching them very closely for the past few days and I’m really looking forward to seeing an opponent I don’t think Illinois has beaten before. Illinois also hasn’t beaten an SEC opponent in a bowl game. Our whole mantra this year has been to do something we’ve never done before and this is an opportunity that’s up there. I’m also really looking forward to competing against Mike Leech and his staff. Hopefully over the next few weeks I’ll have a lot of Illinois fans in the community saying, “See you in Tampa.” I would love to have a lot of fans there, a great bowl, a great venue and I’m really looking forward to that opportunity.”
If he knew Illinois would get the ReliaQuest Bowl:
“Three bowl games kept getting brought to me and I think all three were great options and all three involved the SEC. Jim McVay, the director of the ReliaQuest Bowl, has come a long way as head coach and coordinator and has always had a great relationship, and once the ReliaQuest Bowl became an opportunity, I couldn’t have been more excited.”
About what the bowl game means to culture:
“We’re building a culture so next year or the year after, there’s a newbie sitting in the back of the room wanting that behavior to be repeated. So it has to be a reward for our coaches, our players and our administration, a reward for our community, the athletic department and the university – all the people who believe in the ILL, people across the country who can’t go to Tampa, host a watch party and breathe this culture that we created specifically for us as a football team playing against an SEC team on January 2nd – we recruit heavily in Florida so it’s going to be a big deal for these families to shut down and their sons to watch while playing. It’s a big deal and has so many positive aspects.