Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Josh Whitman (Aug. 12)

Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Josh Whitman (Aug. 12)

As a youngster, who were your favorite professional athletes?

Like many people my age, I grew up a huge fan of Michael Jordan. He was such a competitor. He pushed those around him to be great. And he seemed to love what he was doing. I also loved baseball player Chris Sabo. I was a huge fan of the Cincinnati Reds — something I inherited from my dad — and Chris broke on the scene with sports goggles at the same time I was wearing them as a kid. He took something that could have been seen as pretty nerdy and embarrassing for a young boy and made it much cooler.

What was something you learned about your freshman self during UI's 0-11 season in 1997?

As hard as that season was, there were a lot of lessons to be learned. Perseverance. Toughness. Loyalty and commitment to your teammates and your coaches. We came together in the face of pretty intense adversity.

What stands out for you about Illinois' 1999 victory at Michigan?

I remember Rocky Harvey's breakaway run at the end of the game and his dive into the end zone. I was one of the first players to reach him to celebrate after the score. I'll never forget that day.

What do you remember about UI's win in 1999 at Ohio State?

After that game, Ohio State was beginning renovations of the Horseshoe. They actually invited fans onto the field after the game and allowed them to tear up and take home the sod. People were filling bags and bags with the stuff. I had a pretty good game, and afterward, I found my folks waiting on me with garbage bags full of Buckeye sod — including, by their estimation, the dirt from the exact spots where I caught my two touchdowns. They took it home and replanted it in their front yard.

Who was your most underrated Illini teammate?

Robert Holcombe. It is hard to say that the school's all-time leading rusher was underrated, but he was. What he did as a senior was remarkable. We had only one weapon: him. Every play, everybody knew who was getting the ball. There were no surprises. No tricks. But he never yielded. He stuck his nose in there every play and dominated games. He was a tremendous ball carrier, but on the few plays he didn't carry it, his blocks were vicious. He was an incredible teammate, competitor and leader. I was so young and inexperienced that I didn't fully understand what I was seeing, but the guy was a monster. So tough. Such a workhorse. There were Sundays when he could barely walk. But by Tuesday, he was back out there, hammering away with the rest of us. Robert Holcombe was a warrior.

Illini Birthdays:

Today: Brian Page, tennis (24)

Monday: Blake Hayes, football (19)

Tuesday: Kelly Maday, soccer (19)

Wednesday: Corey Hammon, track & field (27)

Thursday: Neil Rackers, football (42)

Friday: Dee Brown, basketball (34)

Saturday: Laura Haselhorst Mueller, volleyball

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.

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