The freshman belongs, dude

The freshman belongs, dude

RANTOUL — Go to the highlight tape.

Watch the one-handed catch Mike Dudek pulled in during a high school game last September against Naperville Central.

It leaves one shaking his or her head in wonder. The true freshman wide receiver hasn’t done anything to diminish his stature with the second week of fall training camp nearing a close at Illinois.

Freshmen at Illinois are off limits to the media until the start of Big Ten play. But if the Neuqua Valley product keeps progressing at the rate he is, good luck trying to keep inquiring minds from wanting to talk to the personable 18-year-old.

“We saw this glimpse in spring, and he has really just carried it over into fall camp,” quarterback Wes Lunt said. “He’s an extremely talented guy. He’s such a young guy, but he has so much potential.”

Potential not many other college coaches took stock in. When Dudek orally committed to Illinois in April 2013, his only other offer came from North Dakota.

“It just says that the recruiting process isn’t what it’s meant out to be sometimes,” Lunt said. “If you have a bunch of offers, that really doesn’t mean anything until you get here. He has done nothing but put in hard work and asked a ton of questions. It shows.”

Checking in at 5 feet, 11 inches and 185 pounds, he is the smallest wideout who has worked with the starters.

Yet he has constantly caught passes from Lunt throughout Camp Rantoul, a trend that started back in spring ball after he enrolled early at Illinois.

“We were just talking about him the other day,” running back Donovonn Young said. “He’s big-time. He’s a true freshman out there making plays. He has been the most consistent wide receiver this camp.”

Young likely only gets one season to experience Dudek. The senior, though, will keep close tabs on what the Naperville native does the rest of his time at Illinois.

“There’s no telling where he’s going to be in two or three years, but he should play a big role in our offense this year,” Young said. “I’m excited to see what he can do. He’ll surprise a lot of people. A lot of people won’t think he’s any good because he’s white, and he’s small. He’s got all the knocks against him, but he’s going to ball out.”

Possibly in the return game, too. Dudek has worked with V’Angelo Bentley during special team drills. Bentley likes what he has seen from the newcomer when he fields a punt or kickoff.

“He’s a quick guy,” Bentley said. “He can see the hole, and he’s quick to get in the holes. He’s very swift with his moves. He’s very deceptive. You think he might be going one way, and then he goes the other way. He’s a good guy to have back there.”

Illinois coach Tim Beckman agrees.  

“He plays older than what he is,” Beckman said. “He’s elusive. He’s very disciplined in what we teach. He does exactly what you ask him to do, and he’s dependable. When you stick a punt returner back there, he’s got to be a guy you can count on. He’s definitely one we can count on.”

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