Jake Beesley

North Central senior cornerback and Champaign Central graduate Jake Beesley, right, during a game last season at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis.

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Jake Beesley is happy Big Ten football is returning next weekend.

“It’ll give us something to watch,” he said.

But the 2017 Champaign Central graduate sure would like to suit up this fall for the North Central College team he stars for.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Beesley earned Associated Press First Team Division III All-American honors at cornerback in 2019, helping the Cardinals finish 14-1 en route to the program’s first national title last December.

When he’ll play football again, though, is uncertain. North Central, like every other D-III program in the country, doesn’t have football this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The school based in Naperville is slated to have a few games next spring — Beesley said indications are they could play as many as five — before the 2021 season hopefully rolls around.

A season Beesley never thought he would play in because the 2020 season was supposed to mark his senior season. The NCAA is offering athletes another year of eligibility, and Beesley intends to use it.

“Most of us seniors are going to be doing that,” Beesley said. “Our main goal is to defend that national championship.”North Central is having practices this fall, but Beesley isn’t participating. He had sports hernia surgery in late May in St. Louis, a procedure he was supposed to have in the spring, but one that was pushed back because of the pandemic.

“I don’t know what week we would be in right now,” Beesley said, “but I still wouldn’t be able to play considering what condition I’m in right now.”

The former three-sport standout at Central — Beesley won The News-Gazette’s Male Athlete of the Year honor for the 2016-17 school year after his success in football, basketball and baseball with the Maroons — is catching up on school work, too, with the finance and accounting major planning on taking his CPA exam later than he originally anticipated.

“I pushed that back a little bit,” he said. “It was a whole process for us as seniors, but if we could have one more season to play, I feel like it was worth it.”

Normally laid-back and stoic, Beesley is sure to embrace his next football season. Probably more than at any point in his athletic career.

“I feel like it’s going to mean more to us because we sat out this whole year, waiting to defend our national championship, and we’re sacrificing a whole lot,” Beesley said. “It’s something we’re all looking forward to next August.”

Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at mdaniels@news-gazette.com.