Bryce Douglas follows in father's footsteps — but in a different arena
It is every Mom and Dad's dream: Little Olivia or little Jacob excels in academics, music, sports. And earns a scholarship to their alma mater.
Bruce and Madge Douglas are about to live the dream in a big way, courtesy of man/child son Bryce.
On June 22, the Plainfield Central defensive tackle accepted a scholarship offer from Illinois football coach Tim Beckman. The 6-foot-2, 320-pounder joins the team in 2013.
Good call by the school and the player, national recruiting expert Tom Lemming said.
"I think he's a diamond in the rough," Lemming said. "With his athletic ability and his size, if he has the desire and the work ethic, there will be no stopping him. He's certainly athletic enough to be a star in college."
Call it mapping your own destiny. From an early age, Bryce Douglas had Illinois on the brain. How do we know? Start with his Illini-themed bedroom, complete with a Block I painted on the wall, Illinois sheets and comforter.
The attachment to Illinois makes a lot of sense. Dad Bruce was a star guard at the school in the 1980s, leading Lou Henson's teams to a Big Ten title and a deep run in the 1984 NCAA tournament (please, don't ask about playing Kentucky in Lexington with a spot in the Final Four at stake.)
"It's a great feeling," Bruce Douglas said. "First of all, Illinois is a great institution to be associated with. To think my son will be able to carry on a legacy there, that's special."
His kids grew up attending events at Illinois. The closer Bryce's college decision came, the more Bruce Douglas pushed him to consider all options. Just in case.
Mom Madge is an Illinois graduate. She has been married to Quincy High School sweetheart Bruce for 25 years (No. 26 is Aug. 16).
"It's very exciting," Madge Douglas said. "He had his heart set on wanting to play down at Illinois."
"This really is a dream come true," Bryce Douglas said. "Not everybody gets to follow in their father and mother's footsteps."
In mid-June, Bryce Douglas didn't have any offers from BCS schools. But there was interest from Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue.
There was only one he really cared about: Illinois. He attended past summer camps at the school, looking to gain the coaches' attention.
No problem for the new staff, which had a heads-up from Keith Gilmore, the lone holdover from Ron Zook's regime. Gilmore first noticed Bryce as a 14-year-old.
"He's had his eye on him ever since," Madge Douglas said.
"Coach Gilmore likes to say, 'I watched him as a puppy,' " Bruce Douglas said.
Gilmore prepped Douglas going into the June camp, telling him to show the rest of the coaches his ability and work ethic.
"He said, 'I need you to come down here and dominate this camp and something good will happen,' " Douglas said.
Douglas followed orders, earning MVP honors at the school's big man camp. Then, he had an important conversation with the first-year UI coach.
Beckman pulled the player aside and offered him a scholarship. With his parents nearby, Douglas told them what was going on. Five minutes later, Beckman made the offer again in front of Bryce's parents.
Ten minutes later, Bryce Douglas accepted the offer.
With his college choice made, Douglas can concentrate on his senior season at Plainfield Central. The team is hoping to win a conference title and advance deep into the state playoffs.
Douglas knows he needs to play a key role.
Room to grow
Bryce Douglas doesn't turn 17 until August. He still is learning the game, his dad said.
"His work ethic has really taken off to another level," Bruce Douglas said.
Off the field, Bryce Douglas is a top student. Beckman was happy to hear his GPA: 3.70.
"We've tried to keep his life balanced," Bruce Douglas said. "We're Christian people. We're faithful. We've got a lot of other things going on in his life besides sports."
After football ends, Bryce Douglas is interested in working in law enforcement. Maybe even the CIA. Or Homeland Security.
No criminal figures to mess with a 320-pounder.
Friends for life
Bruce Douglas was a sophomore starter on the 1983-84 Illini team, which finished 26-5 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten. Amazingly, the conference title was the only one during the Henson era. The five losses were by a combined 16 points, and four were on the road. The lone home loss was a two-point decision against Kentucky.
Douglas finished his Illinois career as the school's all-time best in assists and steals. Both records appear unbreakable. He has 91 more assists than No. 2 Dee Brown. And he has 93 more steals than No. 2 Brown.
Players on the 1983-84 team have been successful off the court. There are bankers, an Emmy-winning TV producer and company executives among their ranks.
Though it has been 28 years since their championship season, the players remain close. Douglas is in constant contact with many of his former teammates.
Now, they'll have a new reason to visit Champaign-Urbana: to check out Bruce's son on the football field.
"He's always been a large-boned mammal," ex-Illini Doug Altenberger said. "That's really cool. I've seen him grow up. He was a man/child in sixth grade, a gentle giant."
"I know it's an exciting time for Bruce," former Illini Anthony Welch said. "I've got sons who play ball. If they would have had the opportunity to go and play at Illinois, I would have loved it. Even if it was football. That's your alma mater. We were all big football fans when we were down there."
Bryce isn't playing the same sport as Bruce. So, you won't be able to compare the statistics of the two in college.
"That part of it will be fun for him," Bruce Douglas said. "He will be able to set his own standards and set his own expectations and work toward his own goals. I think they are going to be surprised. Bryce really is something special. He's got a ways to go, but he's got a lot of gifts that you can't make and you can't buy."
The name brings added recognition. And added pressure.
"He still has to live up to that name," former Illini Reggie Woodward said. "An athlete is an athlete.
"I think it's a good pressure."
Ultimately, the goals are the same for father and son: help Illinois win titles.
You can expect to see the Douglas family even more in C-U once Bryce starts school. They will come visit on football weekends and during the basketball season.
Douglas has maintained contact with Henson. When the family travels to Champaign, Bryce starts asking, "Can we see Coach Henson? Can we see Coach Henson?"
"They've grown up hearing Coach Henson stories," Bruce Douglas said. "They admire him. We were just over to the house a few weeks ago. Bryce got a chance to talk to Coach, and he said he's looking forward to seeing him at a few games.
"I've told Bryce, 'You want to hang around Coach as much as you can.' "
Bruce Douglas wants to meet new basketball coach John Groce.
"I'm a great supporter of the program," Douglas said. "I'm looking forward to us getting back to a place we think we can be at in basketball."
Playing the fields
The youngest of four boys, Bryce isn't the first to play football. Bruce Jr. started at tight end for Downers Grove North's state title team. The third oldest, Brock, is in his second year at Northern Illinois and plans to walk on as a running back.
Madge Douglas didn't want her kids playing football.
"I was worried they'd get hurt," she said. "That mom thing."
Once they started letting Bryce play, he excelled. He helped his youth team win a national tournament in Florida, bringing home a trophy "as big as the house."
Bryce Douglas hasn't limited himself to football. He played basketball and baseball for Plainfield Central, leading the former in scoring and the latter in home runs.
But to get better at football, he will give up the other two sports for his senior season.
"That's what he's got to do," Lemming said. "He's got plenty of time. Without a doubt, he should be redshirted."
"He's not as far along as some of the other guys. He has as much upside as any guy in the state."
If not for the commitment to Illinois, Lemming said he thinks the offers would have piled up for Douglas. But Douglas has no interest in other schools.
"It's the ideal situation," Bryce Douglas said. "It's just the perfect fit for me."
Staff writer Bob Asmussen tracked down every member of the 1983-84 Big Ten champion Illini. A look:
Former Metro State coach living in Wichita, Kan., broadcasting Wichita State basketball games
Former Illinois-Chicago head coach retired and is living in Chicago
Retired legend splits his time between Champaign and Las Cruces, N.M.
Former Illinois and Illinois-Chicago assistant retired and is living in Chicago suburbs
Reggie Woodward, 35
Lives in North Carolina, where he works in construction labor support for Tradesmen International
Scott Meents, 30
His legal issues in Oregon squared away (three years probation after a drug arrest), he lives in Moline and travels the country installing hospital equipment
Anthony Welch, 44
Living in Chicago, he does consulting for nonprofit organizations
Don Klusendorf, 31
Living in California, director of sales and marketing for Bonipak Produce
Quinn Richardson, 21
Senior vice president for Bank of America in Chicago
George Montgomery, 23
Teaches at Chicago’s Power House High School and lives in the Chicago suburbs. His son, JaVale McGee, plays for the Denver Nuggets
Dee Maras, 34
Emmy Award-winning producer owns Oklahoma television production company Videoworkers
Tony Wysinger, 10
Men’s basketball coach and assistant AD at Illinois Central College
Doug Altenberger, 22
Owner of Stonegate Properties in the Chicago suburbs, lives in Barrington
Efrem Winters, 24
Manager for Pepper Construction in the Chicago area, lives in Aurora
Tom Schafer, 11
General manager for California company NordsonAsymtec, lives in the Chicago area
Bruce Douglas, 25
Manager at Exelon, living in Plainfield, where he serves as a minister