Members of the Illinois football team that made it to Dallas enjoy first day in town.
(DALLAS, TEX.) – The University of Illinois Fighting Illini, and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs made it to Dallas yesterday, to prepare for the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Two airplanes were scheduled to leave Chapmaign. The first group that was scheduled to leave at 10:30 am did not make it. The downed plane included members of the coaching staff, and other personnel. Lucky enough for Illini Outside Linebackers coach Al Seamonson, his wife Kristi, and their sons Kalvin and Karter, they were able to make it to Dallas without a problem.
For those what were able to make it into town, they checked into their hotels, met with the Zaxby’s bowl committee for a quick welcome brief, and had a short moment to check out the Dallas skyline on their way to the America Airlines Center, to watch the Dallas Mavericks host the Atlanta Hawks, from the Renaissance Hotel. Seamonson was excited of the opportunity, and looked forward to being in Dallas for the week.
“I like it down here. I’ve been down here doing a little bit of recruiting in the last few weeks, and Dallas is great,” Seamonson said. “The weather’s a little nicer than Champaign this time of year. It’s been raining for a while on us.”
Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks had their own rainstorm in front of the 20,339 fans that packed the arena for Mavericks guard Devin Harris’ bobble-head night. The Mavericks lost to the Hawks 102-105, in a very physical game, that included four total technical fouls. The Mavericks managed to score just 38 points in the first half, only to rally late in the game, scoring 39 points in the fourth quarter.
The proud father of three was able to enjoy the game with his family, showcasing his new Illinois sweater, that included the new “I” logo, however, it did not distract him from his the reason why the Fighting Iliini are in Dallas.
Seamonson has been preparing for some time now, as he and the rest of the Illini staff have been studying those guys from Ruston since they found out that the would be facing the Bulldogs in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Illini have to find a way to stop Bulldogs junior Running Back Kenneth Dixon, a two year letterman who leads Conference USA in scoring, and averages over five yards per carry. Dixon was named to the All-Conference team for a second consecutive season, and was a freshman All-American in 2012.
“These guys are good,” Seamonson said about the Bulldogs offense. “They have a great running back, very comparable to the ones we’ve seen in the Big Ten. You gave guys like (Melvin) Gordon from Wisconsin, (David) Cobb from Minnesota, and (Ameer) Abdullah from Nebraska. We didn’t go up against Gordon, but there’s a lot of good gunning backs in the Big Ten, but this guy (Dixon), is every bit as good.”
For the Illini, stopping the run has been a challenge. The Illini are ranked last in the Big Ten in Rush Defense, allowing over five yards per carry, and 28 touchdowns on the ground. In a conference known for its run game, and hard nosed runners like “Red” Grange, “Buddy”Young, and J.C. Caroline, the Big Ten is also known for something else; Playing early games in very cold conditions.
In their last game at home, the Illini defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 16-14, in a highly contested game at Memorial Stadium. The temperature at kickoff was 35 degrees.
The weather will is not projected to be that cold in Dallas, and Seamonson is glad to be in town. Wearing just a Black team sweater, Seamonson and his family was enjoyed the weather, and thought that that a sweater was enough for him. The weather was 48 degrees at tip off, and got colder throughout the night. He wasn’t offended by the the fans in attendance wearing jackets, like myself.
“I would say that it is cold enough to wear a jacket,” Seamonson said jokingly, as he made a stab at my Dallas Cowboys jacket. “I try to wear a jacket as little as possible, so I’m not bringing a jacket to Dallas.”
Seamonson also wasn’t offended by the Illini having three defensive starters on defense. The Illini have four starters on the team and five are on the offensive side of the ball. Regardless of the side, Seamonson knows that they have a solid group of senior leaders on the team. Thy were freshmen the last time the Illini was bowl eligible.
“It is really important for these guys to be in a bowl game, because they went as freshmen, and hadn’t been their sophomore and junior season. Getting back to a bowl game was huge for this senior class,” Seamonson said. “They’ve had a great year, and they’re true leaders. They deserve a chance to finish strong, and close out the 2014 season with a winning record.”
Kickoff for the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl is Friday at Noon (CST), and the Weather.com kickoff temperature is predicted to be at 61 degrees, with wind speeds reaching 16 mph. Ticket prices range from $25 for general admission seating to $125 for reserved seats. Tickets can be purchased through the bowl’s web site at www.HeartofDallasBowl.com. Complimentary tickets are available to first responders and their families via signup at the bowls website.