Coach: 'I still can't believe he's gone'

Coach: 'I still can't believe he's gone'

3 p.m. update

Francis Edelen, killed in a Wednesday night hit-and-run accident, saw his most action as an Illini as a true freshman in 2015-16. He was the starter at 125 pounds, winning two matches. He competed at the Big Ten meet, but did not place.

“He kind of got called to duty early his freshman year just because of circumstances,” Illinois coach Jim Heffernan said today.

In his second season, Mr. Edelen redshirted. He competed unattached in open events and went 6-8 with four pins.

He moved to 141 pounds this season and didn’t have any matches.

 “This year was kind of in a rough spot just with a couple of guys who had great  years, sitting behind them,” Heffernan said. “He was always a productive kid to have.”

Heffernan first recruited Mr. Edelen after getting a call from Brad Sikora, the principal at Oak Forest High School. Sikora was a Illini letterman in the late 1990s.

Heffernan described Mr. Edelen as “a regular kid, like most of our guys.”

Heffernan last saw Mr. Edelen the weekend before the team left for the NCAA meet in Cleveland.

“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” Heffernan said. “It’s entirely too early.”

Because the campus is on spring break, most of the wrestlers are out of town. Heffernan contacted the team shortly after he heard about Mr. Edelen’s death.

“I’ve never been through this before,” Heffernan said. “Hope I am never through anything like this again.

“That’s an  awful thing for his family, his friends, his high school coaches. It’s a terrible thing.”

Mr. Edelen was a standout wrestler at Oak Forest. He set a record at the 2014 state meet with a 10-second pin in the preliminary rounds.
 

***

Illinois State Police say a member of the University of Illinois wrestling team was killed Wednesday night in a hit-and-run accident on Interstate 57, about 3 miles north of Rantoul.

Trooper Tracy Lillard said Francis Edelen, 21, had been involved in a two-car accident around mile marker 253 at around 9:40 p.m. on I-57 southbound.

Lillard said Edelen was the driver of one of the vehicles and had left the scene of the crash on foot, possibly attempting to flag down help, or get a ride.

Lillard said a short distance south of the first crash location, Edelen was hit and killed by an unknown vehicle in the right lane. Lillard said that vehicle left the scene.

“This is shocking news for our team and coaching staff as no words can truly reflect the emotions that we are going through at this time," said Illini wrestling coach Jim Heffernan. "Francis was a productive member of our program. We are extremely saddened by this news. We just released this news to our team, so the healing process after the loss of a teammate and friend has just begun.”

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman also weighed in Thursday morning.

“Our hearts are broken by the news of Francis Edelen’s passing. Losing someone so early in his life when he has so much yet to experience and to give is a tragedy of the highest order,” Whitman said. “Our thoughts are with Francis’ family and friends. We will come together and draw strength from each other as an Illini family during this difficult time.”

Mr. Edelen graduated from Oak Forest High School.

The accident remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call state police at 867-2050.