Mason Monheim
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He has gone by the name “Starting linebacker” and “Captain.”

Now, Mason Monheim has a new title: “Doctor.”

Last Wednesday, the No. 7 tackler in Illinois history was officially licensed as a dentist.

“It’s something I have always envisioned,” Monheim said. “I’ve wanted to be a dentist basically my whole life. That’s always been the plan.”

He went to work for his dad John’s practice in Orrville, Ohio. Monheim’s hometown of 8,450 is 51 miles from Cleveland.

“I wanted to come back home,” Monheim said. “I like the small town. I like the community here. It’s a community that relies on each other and supports its local businesses.

“Really, I was looking forward to working with my dad. He’s the guy I grew up idolizing. He’s the best man I know. I couldn’t have pictured a better mentor.”

Soon, the 27-year-old will start handling fillings and root canals — typical dentist stuff. But the office is missing its dental hygienist, who hurt her wrist. So, Monheim is seeing her patients, doing cleanings and exams.

“Nothing too crazy,” he said. “It’s a nice transition.”

Monheim is used to jumping right in. He started all four years (2012-15) for Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit. He led the Illini in tackles twice.

Monheim had a career-best 111 stops in 2014, which was his lone bowl season at Illinois.

Monheim never redshirted. To borrow one of my favorite lines from fellow Ohioan Ron Zook: Monheim went from the yellow bus to the big bus.

“Now that I’m done with football, those are the things I can look back on and cherish and be proud of everything I was able to accomplish,” Monheim said. “We didn’t always get all the wins we wanted to, but we sure did have the time of our lives.”

On Illinois’ career tackles list, Monheim is wedged between J Leman and Danny Clark.

Dick Butkus is next. That’s pretty good company to keep.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Monheim said. “To have my name on the same list as those guys, it’s pretty incredible.”

Rooting interest

Life lessons Monheim got from football apply to dentistry.

“In a dental office, you have a front desk, you have assistants, you have hygienists, you have the doctors. You’re a team,” Monheim said. “If someone’s lagging or something goes wrong, it’s not point your fingers. You pick each other up and you keep going.

“I’m still new into dentistry. I’m going to rely on my dad to teach me tricks of the trade. I’ll go to him for advice. That parallels with football.”

Monheim keeps in touch with his former Illini teammates and coaches. Many reached out to congratulate him after he graduated from dentistry school.

Now is a good time to let you know where Monheim received his advanced degree: Ohio State. Not that Monheim was in the stands at Ohio Stadium, cheering on the Buckeyes during recent seasons.

“My wife (Madison) is a diehard football fan, but she is not a Buckeye fan,” Monheim said. “We’d walk around and she would be like, ‘They are so annoying.’ She definitely still bleeds Orange and Blue.”

Madison went to Miami (Ohio) and is a special education teacher. They were married in 2017.

Mason and Madison watch Illinois football whenever possible. Now that dentistry school has ended, they will have more time to return to Memorial Stadium.

He likes the direction of the program with Lovie Smith in charge. Smith was hired four months after Monheim concluded his Illini career.

“It’s good to see that they’ve extended Lovie,” Monheim said. “I think they need consistency there. He’s the right guy for the job. From what I know, he’s a quality guy.”

Though Monheim’s eligibility had ended, he met with Smith shortly after the coach was hired.

“We talked about life. We talked about football,” Monheim said. “He didn’t know me, but he thanked me for everything I did for the university, the team, being a leader. I appreciated him doing that because he didn’t have to. That was very classy of him.”

Family business

John Monheim, 59, has been a dentist since 1986.

“In the same office,” Mason Monheim said.

They like to joke. And try to keep it light and fun. In the coming days, Mason Monheim’s name will go on the office sign. Dad gets top billing.

It isn’t a profession that gains a lot of love or glory. There isn’t cheering after a successful procedure, though maybe there should be.

“Not everyone likes the dentist, but it is certainly necessary,” Monheim said. “People are a lot of times in a very vulnerable state. Dental pain is like no other if you’ve experienced it.

“We’re just trying to keep the patients smiling big and pain free.”

The coronavirus pandemic closed dental offices across the nation for anything other than emergencies.

As they reopen, Monheim said, there have been some changes in terms of number of patients allowed in the waiting room.

But dentists have long followed high standards when it comes to sterilizing instruments and wearing protective gear while performing work.

“What is a little different is making sure the patient feels comfortable, the patient feels confident,” Monheim said.

Physically, Monheim looks different than the guy who made life miserable for Big Ten running backs. Then, the 6-foot-1 Monheim checked in at about 240 pounds, with longer hair and a full beard.

“My appearance when I played at Illinois wouldn’t really relax people,” Monheim said.

Today, he’s at 210 with shorter hair.

“I think that brings a little bit less intimidation,” Monheim said. “I’m not throwing around heavy weights anymore. Now, it’s all about technique.

“I definitely have become civilized. I’m not this large-hair-going-everywhere beast anymore.”

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-393-8248 or at You can also follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen). 

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).