Asmussen: Every day is Mother's Day for Zook
She was always there for the games. Home and away. In high school and college. The ultimate sports mom. Supportive. Kind.
"We really followed him and really loved every minute of it," Dorothy Zook said.
All these years later, Dorothy Zook is following her son Ron's teams with the same kind of enthusiasm. Her eyesight hampered by macular degeneration, Dorothy finds a way.
She visits Champaign-Urbana every season for a couple of games. And when she's at home in Lake Worth, Fla., she'll pull her chair close to the television while watching the Illini.
The 83-year-old breast cancer survivor is healthy and active. She goes swimming every day. She drives herself to the gym and the grocery store.
"She doesn't sit down much," Ron Zook said.
Ask her about football and you'll get an intelligent answer. Having a son in the game has made her somewhat of an expert.
"She watches football," Ron Zook said. "She watches pro football. She follows all of the players I've coached in the NFL. She can tell me more on a Monday what former guys have done than I can."
Growing up in Loudonville, Ohio, Ron Zook said he caused his share of trouble.
"I was not an angel," Ron Zook said.
With his dad, Pete, on the road quite a bit because of business, the discipline was left to Dorothy.
"You had to correct it when it was being done," Dorothy Zook said.
But she doesn't remember Ron being much of a troublemaker.
"I never thought he was," Dorothy Zook said. "Mothers would never think that. I was very proud of all of our children."
"With my mom, everything was about the kids," Ron Zook said. "She always puts the kids before everything else."
Mother's Day at the Zooks wasn't as big of a deal as say, Easter. But Ron and his siblings came through every year with an orchid corsage.
"That was a must," Dorothy Zook said.
Mother's Day also meant going out to dinner at Zim's. Nothing too fancy.
"That was a good deal," Ron Zook said.
Dorothy Zook had to get used to watching her son play football. It wasn't always easy.
"He always said, 'Don't come out of the stands, Mom, if something happens. Just stay there,' " Dorothy Zook said. "One time he was playing in high school, he got hit real bad and they were stuffing stuff up his nose. His nose was bleeding. I never will forget that. It was the hardest thing I ever did."
Ron Zook recalls another difficult time growing up. His older brother Bob was a pilot during the Vietnam War.
"He flew all these extra missions so he could get back earlier," Ron Zook said. "He came home Christmas Day. She started crying. I couldn't understand it. Her first thought was, 'He's going to have to go back.' He didn't."
Dorothy has been a player's mom and a coach's mom. Which is more difficult?
"Both of them are," Dorothy Zook said. "Last year was pretty hard on me because I kept thinking, 'Oh, dear, things should go better,' " Dorothy Zook said.
She has heard nasty things said about her son in the stands. Now, when she goes to a game, she stays in his office "so I don't hear the bad things."
Mostly, the fans have been good to her. She has fond feelings about Champaign-Urbana.
"She has no enemies, and she meets no strangers," Ron Zook said. "She's proud of her family. She's proud of her kids. She's proud of her grandkids."
Mother and son talk often, Dorothy said. And Ron Zook visits Lake Worth whenever possible. He was there for part of last week.
"He keeps me up on things," Dorothy Zook said. "They're so far away now, I don't get to see them as often as I'd like."
"I do listen," Ron Zook said. "She has a lot of wisdom. I'll occasionally bounce things off of her. She's got a lot of good knowledge."
Dorothy and Pete were married 55 1/2 years. Pete Zook passed away during Ron Zook's first season as head coach in 2002.
"He was just great," Dorothy Zook said. "We had wonderful times together."
Zook said his mom showed "unbelievable strength" during his dad's battle with cancer. Per his dad's wishes, Dorothy was at the next Florida game after his death.
"She's doing about as well as you can do after living with somebody as long as they did," Ron Zook said.
Talking to the troops
Zook leaves later this month to visit with U.S. troops. Also on the tour are Army coach Rich Ellerson, Oregon's Chip Kelly, Harvard's Tim Murphy and Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville.
"The coaches I've talked to who have been there say it's an unbelievable experience, but it's not a joy ride," Zook said. "I love America, and I respect what those guys do. We're going to eight countries. I don't know where."
In the past, Zook has visited an aircraft carrier and flown with the Blue Angels. But this trip is different.
"There wasn't a war going on," Zook said.
Illinois season ticket renewals were due back April 23. Ticket manager Jason Heggemeyer said the final totals still are being determined.
"We're working on it every day," Heggemeyer said. "The pace that we are on, we're really only right behind where we were at the same time last year. It looks right now like the numbers are coming in pretty good."
On May 25, Illinois will sell $77 horseshoe season tickets.
"I think people will have a chance to get them if they get them on that first day," Heggemeyer said. "But I really don't want to promise anything because in the past the demand has been very, very high."
Tickets orders for the Missouri game will go out later in May.
The school is trying to figure out its sale plan for the Nov. 20 Wrigley Field game. Illinois will receive just 3,000 tickets, with no public sale. The tickets will go to I-Fund members.
Northwestern is linking the Wrigley Field game to its season ticket package.
"I think what they're trying to do is leverage a great opportunity to sell more season tickets," Heggemeyer said. "That's shrewd business. That's what we all would do. I think it was smart."
Single-game tickets for Illinois will go on sale at 9 a.m. July 22.
Kickers, punters and long snappers have a chance to learn from the best at the Kohl's Kicking Camp, scheduled for June 5 at Dunlap High School.
Past camp participants include Thomas Morstead, now punter for the Super Bowl champion Saints. Morstead is now one of the coaches at the Kohl's camps.
Dunlap's P.J. Mangieri is another recent camp participant. After excelling at the Kohl's camp in 2008, Mangieri had multiple college football options. He settled on Nebraska, where the walk-on started as a freshman for Bo Pelini's Huskers.
Mangieri is hoping to become another in the line of Kohl's campers who land in the NFL.
Bob Asmussen covers college football for The News-Gazette. You can reach him at 217-351-5233 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.