Weisse's 'reunion weekend' coincides with Hansen's record game

Weisse's 'reunion weekend' coincides with Hansen's record game

Every year without fail, former Illinois football teammates Jeff Weisse, Eric Guenther, Kirk Johnson and Chip Nicastro get together at least once.

"It's our reunion weekend," Weisse said. "This was our 17th year."

They picked the right time and place in 2018.

Last Saturday, from his seat in the East balcony at Memorial Stadium, Weisse and his family watched as his 20-year-old record was tied by current Illini linebacker Jake Hansen.

Back on Sept. 12, 1998 against Middle Tennessee, Weisse had six tackles for loss.

The previous record, five, had been held by four players, including Illini great Simeon Rice, who did it four times.

Weisse attended the Illinois-Kent Stae game with wife Nancy, daughters Abby and Grace, and son Nicholas.

He didn't know they were witnessing history "until I started getting texts from my buddies. They were giving me the business."

Weisse was thrilled to see his record tied. And happy to see Illinois rally for a win. That ended a 10-game losing streak for Lovie Smith's team.

Weisse can do Hansen one better. His record game came as the Illini ended a school-worst 18-game skid.

"That was a game where we finally got a win after the dreaded 1997 winless campaign," Weisse said. "We were itching to get a victory. I remember it like it was yesterday."

It was a lot of games ago for Weisse, who played from 1995-98 for Lou Tepper and Ron Turner.

During his record night, Weisse "realized I was having a pretty good game. But you're not realizing you're having a once-in-a-books type of game. You get in that zone and you feel like you're a man among boys."

Most of Weisse's TFLs in that game were for big numbers. He knocked the Blue Raiders back 37 total yards. Hansen's six tackles behind the line were for 8 total yards.

In a close game. Hansen's might have been more important. The Illini needed every yard in a 31-24 victory.

"He was all over the field," Weisse said.

Weisse originally came to Illinois to play linebacker after a standout career at West Aurora. As a sophomore at Illinois, he was converted to defensive end, where he was a part-time starter throughout his career.

He's got a message for Hansen.

"Keep it up, brother," Weisse said. "Keep ballin'. Let's rack up some Ws and get to a bowl game this year."

Tackling machines

Nobody should have been surprised when Hansen made a bunch of stops. Beside the six behind the line, he had nine others for a game-high 15.

It runs in the family. His dad, Shad, holds BYU records for tackles in a season and a career. Playing for late legend LaVell Edwards, he had 408 from 1989-92, with 193 in '91.

Did Dad ever have six TFLs in a game?

"Never," Shad said. "It was a much different game back then. The athletes back then are nothing like the athletes they are today.

"I look at what he's doing and it's so much far above what I ever did."

Shad passes the credit for his son's ability.

"I wasn't as fast as Jake, that's for sure," Shad said. "He got the speed from his mother (Lori)."

Lori Hansen was a swimmer and played soccer.

Jake missed the 2017 season with a torn ACL. Last Saturday was his first game back.

"It was great to see him be able to play football again and be healthy," Shad said.

One down moment for Jake came when he dropped a certain interception.

"I definitely wish I could have had that play back," Jake said.

"I told him, 'It's OK Jake, I never had an interception,'" Shad added. "I didn't even play pass coverage."

The Hansens plan to be at every game this season. Home and away, even if it's a long trip from their Florida home.

Happy place

Jake Hansen signed with Illinois and former coach Bill Cubit on Feb. 3, 2016.

"It was just a great opportunity to play in the Big Ten," he said. "That was a huge reason for me. I wanted to play at the highest level I could. Liked Coach Cubit. I liked the coaching staff. They did a great job recruiting me,"

"We were really excited about Champaign and the university," Shad said.

A month later, Illinois fired Cubit.

Welcome to the Big Ten.

"I got an ESPN update," Hansen said. "That's how I originally found out about Cubit getting fired. I was pretty shocked."

Soon after the Illinois change, the Hansens heard Lovie Smith would be the next coach.

"Everything works out," Jake Hansen said. "Things happen for a reason."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.