COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the Illinois team buses rolled up to Ohio Stadium just after 6 p.m. Friday, they were escorted by three state troopers on motorcycles. One of the troopers was wearing an orange helmet with the same design as Illinois’ game-day helmet — minus the facemask.
“Todd Kerin, his son (Zac) played for us at Toledo,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said after the team’s brief walkthrough at the Horseshoe. “He’s heading the escort, and that’s why he’s got the Illinois helmet on.”
As Beckman stepped off the bus, a hug was awaiting him from a member of the Ohio Stadium staff. The first-year Illinois coach shook hands and shared a few more hugs as he led the Illini onto the turf Friday evening.
Beckman is familiar with the folks at Ohio State, having spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons as an assistant coach with the Buckeyes under Jim Tressel.
“It’s great to see friends,” he said. “We’ve got some good memories of this place.”
Another familiar face will grace the opposing sideline today in first-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Beckman and Meyer’s friendship goes back to their college days, and Beckman was an assistant under Meyer at Bowling Green in 2001-02.
“Awesome,” Beckman said when asked about his time at Bowling Green with Meyer. “He’s a great person, great friend; he’s got a great family. I’ve enjoyed knowing him, and we’re still very, very close.”
Beckman knows Meyer won’t take it easy on him or the Illini today, and Illinois is expecting a heavy dose of Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s quarterback and the Big Ten’s leading rusher.
“He’s a very good player. I remember him well in high school on up,” Beckman said. “Braxton is a fine football player.”
Illinois freshman offensive lineman Joe Spencer, a native of Mason, Ohio, was greeted by some familiar faces, too. Four high school friends, who are Ohio State students, braved the 39-degree temperatures waiting for the Illinois bus to arrive and shared a moment with the 6-foot-4, 290-pounder.
Despite being considerable underdogs against the sixth-ranked and unbeaten Buckeyes, Beckman maintained Friday that his team is confident entering today’s contest.
“Any time you come in to play an undefeated football team, you’re going to be excited about playing,” he said. “(Patriots rookie safety) Tavon Wilson’s coming in tonight to speak to them. We’re excited about having him, and I know this football team is excited about playing.”