CHICAGO — Dana Howard has a busy Hall of Fame year. Beside his Illinois honor, the superstar linebacker is entering the College Football Hall of Fame in December.
"I’m having a ball," Howard said. "It’s really cool to come back to your alma mater where they think you were one of the best athletes that ever played there. It doesn’t get any better."
From his era, Howard thinks defenders John Holecek, Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy deserve future Hall calls. And running back Howard Griffith.
Howard brought his son Zade with him, Will the 4-year-old play football?
"Baseball," Howard said. "It pays more."
Davis behind the mic
Gala emcee Rece Davis followed last year’s host Mike Tirico. It was his first time working at a school’s Hall of Fame.
"I think the one thing I like about it is it really puts people in touch with their school." Davis said. "Not only the athletes, but the people who come to see them. There’s a trend in sports where younger fans tend to identify more with the player as opposed to the team, particularly in professional sports. It’s a little bit different in college. It’s a cool thing to be a part of."
Davis has been to C-U to cover basketball games. He learned more about the program this week.
The Alabama grad said his bosses were fine with him working at the Gala.
"All of us are in tune with what is good for the sport and what’s good for intercollegiate athletics," Davis said. "Things like this are good for us to be a part of."
Hurless stays in touch
Former soccer star Tara Hurless keeps close tabs on her alma mater. It is easy to do as a UI police officer.
"I can’t help but think I won the lottery with my job," Hurless said. "I get to have a good impact on students, student-athletes and hanging out with the faculty."
What does it mean to be in the Hall?
"You can’t even put into words what it feels like," Hurless said. "You see past Illini you went to school with.
"We were just talking about the UI campus and how it’s changed, except KAM’S is still the same," Hurless said. "That wasn’t my type of bar to be hanging out at when your shoes stick to the floor. But it still does. They just keep it consistent."
Cherin: ‘It’s amazing’
Nancy Brookhart Cherin called Friday’s event "surreal."
The former volleyball star follows Mary Eggers into the Hall.
"It’s amazing," she said. "It’s brought back a lot of really good memories."
She is teaching and coaching in southern California. She came back to C-U for the alumni match in the fall. She played for Mike Hebert and keeps in touch with her former coach.
Spring soaks up history
Justin Spring is back coaching where he was a star gymnast. Now, he is in his alma mater’s Hall of Fame.
"I’m overwhelmed," Spring said. "I can’t tell you how humbled I am to be highlighted with over 100 years of gymnastics history."
Spring went in with coaching legend Charlie Pond.
"He’s an iconic coach," Spring said.
Douglas stops by for Lou
Traffic was a bear, but you couldn’t have kept Bruce Douglas away from Friday’s event. Not with his coach, Henson, among the honorees.
"There’s nobody I can think of in the University of Illinois athletic family that deserves this more than he does," Douglas said. "The impact he had on young people, both men and women, has been phenomenal. And what he’s doing now is phenomenal."
In future years, Douglas will be among the Hall of Famers. He made the NCAA tournament every year during his college career at Illinois in the 1980s and was a dominant playmaker.
"These kind of things, you’re just privileged to be in the mention of it," Douglas said. "Sure, I would love that. I understand fully there are a lot of people that deserve the opportunity to be in the Hall of Fame."
Wakefield all for Holcombe
Former Illini defensive end Fred Wakefield just returned to Illinois as a Arizona-based fund-raiser. He is a fan of the Hall.
"It’s an unbelievable opportunity to recognize those people," Wakefield said. "I think I started on the perfect week. It’s a tradition that will continue to grow."
Who from his era does Wakefield think needs to go in soon?
"One of the guys who had a huge impact was Robert Holcombe," the Tuscola native said of the Illini’s all-time leading rusher. "The things he was able to do with how bad our teams were, he was someone who had an impact on me that I felt was outstanding."