Next man up

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Next man up

CHAMPAIGN — Dominic Stampley grew up going to Illinois football games, watching the Illini players emerge from the tunnel at the northeast corner of Memorial Stadium and run onto Zuppke Field on game day.

Stampley was in that group before Illinois' season opener against Kent State. Decked out in a blue Illini jersey with "STAMPLEY" across the back, the Centennial graduate and junior college transfer got to live out his dream.

"It was crazy," Stampley said. "It definitely was something to see. The guys were real hyped. Then running out there and seeing all the fans, that's what you live for, especially me. It was a really exciting time."

Stampley played a small role in his Illinois debut against the Golden Flashes.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound wide receiver returned just one kick. He fielded it near the far sideline and stepped out of bounds on the 3-yard line — an admitted mistake.

"It was a lot of jitters," Stampley said. "I was just so excited to get on the field. I actually had a little bit of a mess-up in there, but it was everything I expected being a kid from around here."

Stampley's role could grow this Saturday against Western Illinois. Mikey Dudek's third season-ending knee injury leaves a hole not only in the Illinois offense, but also in the return game.

"We'll be counting on some other players to step up into that role," Illini coach Lovie Smith said. "We have a couple of options."

If it's not Stampley, it could be true freshman Carlos Sandy.

Both are just one game into their Illinois careers. Sandy returned his one kick return for 26 yards, matching Dudek's 26-yard punt return for the Illini's longest of the game.

"That was a big blow for our receivers corps, honestly," Stampley said of losing Dudek for the year. "(Losing) a guy that knows the game as well as he does and has just been a great player for so long for the University of Illinois, it was a pretty sad time for us. We've got to rally for him and come together for him and let him know we're always here for him."

Illinois also has to move forward without Dudek. Stampley said the Illini coaching staff has hammered home the concept of "next man up."

"We've got a job still to finish," Stampley continued. "Our boy will be on the sidelines watching us, helping us and helping me especially with all the knowledge he has."

Dudek spent Illinois' three-week training camp working with the team's less experienced receivers. That meant plenty of time with Stampley and Sandy — the guys behind him on the depth chart at slot receiver.

Stampley said he's still learning what it takes to compete at the Big Ten level after redshirting one season and playing another at Coffeyville Community College after he graduated from Centennial.

"I just feel like I need to learn the game a little more," Stampley said. "It's different from when I was in junior college. It's a lot more detailed out here. That's the biggest thing — the biggest key. The moment I get my mental (game) and everything going on a straight path I'll be OK."

Dudek has helped and can continue to help that process along. The redshirt senior wide receiver might just be an observer at practice now, but Illinois' younger receivers are still going to turn to him for advice and leadership.

One important takeaway from Dudek's game, Stampley said, is how he played at full speed every moment of practice or in a game.

"He's a guy that always makes high speed decisions, and he makes the right decisions," Stampley added. "That's the one thing I'm learning from him and currently still trying to learn. I feel like he can get me where I need to be out here on the field to be effective."

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