Milo Eifler arrived at Illinois to help on defense. But against Minnesota, he showed he knew his way to the end zone too. The Washington transfer scored on a fumble recovery and return at TCF Bank Stadium. It was one of two scores for the Illinois linebackers, with Dele Harding returning an interception for a TD. Beat writer BOB ASMUSSEN sat down with the Berkeley, Calif., native earlier this week to talk about Dick Butkus, C-U winters, President Obama and much more:
What was it like to score a touchdown?
It felt good. Being in the end zone as a defensive player, it doesn’t come easily. As a result of Jake Hansen’s strip sack, I was able to get in the end zone. It was a good play by him and a heads-up play by me to scoop and score. Clear space, I figured I was going to get in the end zone.
When was your last touchdown before that?
High school. It was a 90-yard pick six. It was a homecoming game vs. Berkeley High. I made a couple guys miss, stiff armed somebody.
Did you consider doing an end zone dance?
No. I was trying to figure out what defense we were going to run next. I knew we were going to be out there on the field again. I was moving on. Act like you’ve been there before.
Dick Butkus is being celebrated this weekend. At what age did you become aware of him?
Probably my freshman year of college. I didn’t start playing football until my junior year of high school. I was not really aware of who he was and how much weight his name holds and how great of a player he was. He helped change the game of football.
Him being honored this week and having the ability to see him speak before our game on Saturday, it’s going to be great. We’ve hit some adversity. We’re a 2-3 team. We have a good chance of winning this weekend. Whatever he has to say will be a great source of motivation.
When you first heard about him, did you know he went to Illinois?
I had no idea.
What pops in your head when you hear the name Butkus?
You kind of think legend. His number is retired here for a reason. He was a phenomenal player.
How do you feel about a linebacker getting a statue near the Smith Center?
It’s going to be amazing. I can’t even imagine how important this is to him and his family.
Mr. Butkus wore 50 at Illinois. Why do you wear No. 5 with the Illini?
I wore No. 40 at Washington and they were going to give me No. 40 here. I wanted to create my own identity and No. 5 gives me the opportunity to. It’s just a number.
What has been your favorite moment at Illinois so far?
Maybe this weekend when we beat Michigan.
How hard was it to sit out in 2018?
That was my first year without playing football except for my redshirt year. Having to sit out was more of a learning experience. You realize your role on the team might be more vocal than physical. I was just trying to learn the defense at the time.
What do you want to do after football?
I see myself opening up a gym. Getting guys ready for the pros or getting normal people off the street in shape. Back home, living on the West Coast, a lot of people love to stay in shape. I’m one of those people that always wants to be in shape. Opening up a gym is something I’m passionate about.
Do you still talk to former Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson, who coached you in high school?
Yes. He hits me up from time to time. He was one of the reasons I came here.
What did you think about your first Midwest winter?
It was cold. That was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. They gave us a coat. I wasn’t ready. This winter, I’ll know what to do. I’m definitely going to have a hoodie on and a big coat and hat.
Who is the one person, living or dead, you would most like to meet?
I’ll give you three people: LeBron James, Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama. LeBron is one of the best athletes ever. Muhammad Ali, most people don’t understand most of challenges were outside the ring. President Obama, my aunt was able to work for his campaign. I was able to go to the White House, but I never met him.
Tell me something people don’t know about you.
I like to travel the world. I’ve been to Japan, Argentina. France, Spain.
Tell me something people don’t know about one of your teammates.
Nate Hobbs can dance. He just loves to move. He’s good.
Is it a big deal to play Michigan?
Most definitely. This weekend, we’ve got to treat it like it’s the Super Bowl. Michigan is coming in here with hopes of riding over us like Minnesota did.