He's starting to get the hang of it

He's starting to get the hang of it

CHAMPAIGN — He just turned 18. Old enough to vote. And apparently old enough to start in the Big Ten.

Alex Palczewski will open Friday's game at South Florida at guard for Illinois.

It will be his first road start in college. Not that he's dwelling on it.

"I'm just worried about preparing for the game and just doing what I always have to do," the Prospect graduate said.

Palczewski moved into the starting lineup during training camp. A high ankle sprain set him back a bit, but he regained his spot before the Western Kentucky game.

As the team traveled to Memorial Stadium last Saturday afternoon, it dawned on Palczewski he was about to play in his first college game.

"I just told myself I have to stay calm and not psyche myself out," Palczewski said. "I was kind of nervous before. As I was running out for the first drive, I just thought, 'This is the same field I've played on my entire life.' There's more people, but I don't care about that. I'm just doing the same thing I've always done."

Palczewski was far from perfect in his first game. His position coach, Luke Butkus, let him know about it.

"It was all right," Palczewski said. "As an offensive lineman, you never get a good grade."

The coaches grade on a scale of 1 to 100.

"It's almost impossible to get 100 percent," Palczewski said. "I was at like a 30 percent. I feel pretty good if I'm like 50, 60 percent."

Butkus, a standout for the 2001 Big Ten championship team, is not an easy grader.

"There's a linebacker who got a 333 percent (Julian Jones)," Palczewski said. "Butkus told us, 'There are three things that are guaranteed in life, death, taxes and not getting a 333 percent.' "

While he might not get top grades right away, Palczewski expects progress each game.

"I'll be more comfortable," Palczewski said.

He started with a clean slate in the second half against Western Kentucky.

"I didn't dwell on the mistakes," Palczewski said. "If you do that, you're going to keep on messing up. I just thought of the second half like it was another game."

Palczewski isn't the only freshman starting on the offensive line. Larry Boyd is next to him at tackle.

"We don't really care about that," Palczewski said. "We're the starters. We have to do what we have to do. We don't get any slack because we're freshmen. We don't care how old we are. We're going to do what we're taught."

Not only is the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Palczewski adjusting to college football, he is also adjusting to college life.

"You never really have any time off," he said. "I have school. I have practice. I have study hall later. It really helps me mentally. Now, on weekends, I always want to do something: go to the training room, get treatment, watch film. I rarely stay in bed."

With one fewer day to prepare, the pace was more hectic. In high school, Palczewski played at tackle. At Illinois, he's ready to try all five positions.

"I want to be more versatile," Palczewski said.

Palczewski's family came to the Western Kentucky game. And other relatives saw the game on the Big Ten Network.

"They were really happy about it," Palczewski said.

It's 157 miles from Mount Prospect to Memorial Stadium. Usually by car. But not always. Palczewski's dad, Andrzej, has another way to get here.

"He can just hop on his motorcycle and be here in two hours," Palczewski said.

Starting from scratch

Freshman Alex Palczewski makes the second start of his college career on Friday night. Play three-plus more seasons, plus a couple of bowl games, and he will have a chance to catch the following on the school's career starts list:

PLAYER POS. YEARS STARTS

1. Ryan McDonald C 2005-08 48

1. Nathan Scheelhaase QB 2010-13 48

1. Tim Simpson OK 1988-91 48

4. Jeff Allen OL 2008-11 47

4. Bucky Babcock OL 2001-04 47

4. Mason Monheim LB 2012-15 47

4. Tony Pashos OL 1999-2002 47

8. Chris Norwell DL 2004-07 46

9. Kevin Hardy LB 1992-95 45

9. Dana Howard LB 1991-94 45

9. Matt Maddox OL 2003-06 45

9. Marques Sullivan OL 1997-2000 45

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