Listen to this article

Monticello athletic director Dan Sheehan was an Illinois football season ticket holder with his wife before their son Connor was born in June 2009.

So when the Sheehans’ renewal option came up around the time of Connor’s birth, it made for an easy choice.

“We added one (ticket) because the (seat) next to us was available,” Dan said. “He’s been going to tailgates since he was born in 2009. We used to have his crib up there for tailgating. He’s been part of Illini football since he was a couple months old.”

Unfortunately for Connor, Illinois hasn’t done a ton of winning in his lifetime.

The Illini have been to three bowl games — the last in 2014 — and have employed four head coaches in Connor’s existence.

“We’ve had conversations when you go home and watch Notre Dame games,” Dan said. “... He says, ‘Will Illini football ever be that good?’”

Connor got an affirmative to that question for at least a day last weekend.

That’s because Lovie Smith’s Illinois squad overcame being a 31-point underdog to stun No. 6 Wisconsin 24-23 in Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

James McCourt’s walk-off field goal was the decisive blow and allowed Connor, among other Illini fans, to flood the Zuppke Field turf.

“He always expects to win,” Dan said of his 10-year-old son. “He always gets excited, gets his face painted. ... I’m just trying to explain to him it’s probably the biggest win ever in Memorial Stadium.”

Among the images of Connor that Dan posted to Twitter following Saturday’s victory was one of Connor with Illini defensive lineman Kenyon Jackson.

“The funny part on that picture with the player: We actually sat with that player’s dad,” Dan said. “The first thing Connor went up to him and said was, ‘We watched the game with your dad.’”

Connor isn’t unfamiliar with powing around inside Memorial Stadium, either.

He was the water boy during Monticello football’s historic 2018 run, which ended with a Class 3A state championship game win inside the home of the Illini.

“For him to run out of that tunnel last year was an awesome experience,” Dan said, “because those are the guys that run out of the tunnel every week that he gets to watch on Saturday.”

Connor also is a football and University of Illinois fanatic.

The youngster’s room includes autographed memorabilia from Ron Zook, Tim Beckman and Smith. Dan previously posted a piece of Connor’s schoolwork on Twitter as well, with it reading, in part, “I live, breathe and eat football.”

So for Connor and other kids like him to witness Illinois football finally break through against a high-level opponent was a big deal.

“It’s great for the community,” Dan said. “It gives (the kids) goals.”

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).