CHAMPAIGN — The ritual hasn't changed much since high school. Houston Bates still throws up like he used to.
"I'm following my old high school ways," Bates said. "Anxiety. I can't sleep the night before."
The linebacker from Louisiana hopes he has started a new tradition at Illinois: winning awards.
On Monday, Bates was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week. Ron Zook told him about it Monday morning.
"It was a big honor," Bates said. "My first game, coming out here and getting that award, it meant a lot. It builds my confidence, and I'm ready to go."
One of Bates' teammates knows all about the award. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was honored six times in 2010, though he strangely didn't earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.
"I don't know if I can reach that (six), but I've got one under my belt," Bates said. "I'll try to get there."
Bates earned his award with five tackles overall, including a sack. He also recovered a fumble in his college debut.
Last award for Bates before Monday? Scout Team Player of the Week during the 2010 season. There isn't a trophy that goes along with it.
"You get an ovation, that's about it," Bates said.
Bates wouldn't have won the Big Ten award had he followed his original college plan. He made a commitment to LSU during his junior season.
But the LSU coaches talked to him about delaying his entry a semester, known as greyshirting. They signed too many players, and Bates was considered one of the guys who would have to wait.
Bates reopened his recruiting and had offers from Illinois, Arkansas, Mississippi, Colorado and SMU.
"I knew I had a better chance of playing up here," Bates said. "I thought it was my calling.
"This was my last offer. I thought God was telling me, 'It's time to come up here.' "
His first tackle against Arkansas State was in the Red Wolves' backfield. The running back froze, and Bates got him by the legs.
Bates is a linebacker with pass-rushing skills. He wants to hit the quarterback. Often.
"I love it," Bates said. "Coming in, Coach (Ron) West and Coach Vic (Koenning) had talked about me standing up and coming from the edge. Once I heard that, I got really excited because that's what I did in high school. That's my forte."