The Illinois football team begins preseason practices this week and fans can again watch practices on campus.
The Illini are preparing for coach Lovie Smith’s third season, which fans hope will mark the start of a turnaround after several disappointing seasons. So, in the spirit of “hope springs eternal” at the dawn of a new season, we felt compelled to put together a few reasons why you might want to visit an Illini practice:
1. It’s free. Yes, you can get up close to the players and coaches without paying a cent. Practices begin Aug. 3 and continue through Aug. 18. (Starting Aug. 20, practices are closed to the public.) Most of the practices are held on the Campus Recreation Fields bordered by Florida Avenue and Goodwin Avenue in Urbana. Most practices are either 9-11 a.m. or 3-5 p.m. but make sure you check the schedule before venturing to the fields. In the case of inclement weather, practice may be moved inside and closed to the public.
2. Free parking. No, that’s not a misprint. You can park in campus lot F23 just south of the Florida Avenue residence hall; the entrance is off of Florida Avenue. Parking will not be permitted on Goodwin Avenue.
3. See Lovie. Haven’t seen his beard yet? Get your up-close look. You never know, he might shave it off before the team’s season opener 11 a.m. Sept. 1 against Kent State at Memorial Stadium.
4. Autographs. You can stick around after practice for a chance to get the autograph of Smith or your favorite player. And don’t forget Fan Appreciation Day on Aug. 18, the last open practice. The Illini will practice from 3-5 p.m. inside Memorial Stadium, and it will be followed immediately by Fan Appreciation Day from 5-6 p.m. Fans will be allowed to come onto the field and get autographs and photos with the Illini.
5. Did we mention that it’s free?