Brandon Lloyd returned to Illinois for the 10-year reunion of a special team this weekend. The spectacular wide receiver, now starring with the Denver Broncos, helped lead the Illini to a Big 10 Championship and berth in the Sugar Bowl against LSU in 2001. While most of his college teammates have vivid memories of those times, Lloyd returned to campus to rekindle them.
"You know, I haven't really thought about it. I get so consumed in what I'm trying to do in this career in the NFL, that I haven't really thought about it. I haven't really taken a lot of time out to sit and really think about it. That's why I came, because it deserves that.
"This was a special season, and we did win the Big 10 Championship outright. And we did go to a BCS bowl game. That's a big frickin' deal.
"I don't think about it enough. I don't wear my bowl ring enough, and I should. I'm proud of it. I did the work. I worked hard for it, and it deserves special attention. I came back because it means that much to see these guys' faces and see what we did together."
Always self-confident, Lloyd had no doubt the Illini would succeed during his time on campus. Thus, he was not surprised when a magnificent wave of momentum pushed him and his teammates to a remarkable season and BCS bowl.
"It's different now. As a player, I expected that. So I think that's why I get so sidetracked. Now I'm focused on being successful in something else. I want to be successful at the next level. But I expected to do that; that's why we were all recruited to come here.
"Obviously, there were lofty goals for everybody else. When Ron Turner would say, 'We're gonna win the Big 10 Championship,' people would say, 'Yeah, right.' But to us on campus, we thought we could do it. So it was something I was expecting to happen, and it did.
"I was expecting to win the Sugar Bowl. I probably have more sour memories of that than my happy memories because I expected all those good games. I expected us to go 10-2."
Lloyd was a multi-sport high school star in Kansas City when Turner recruited him as a defensive back. It took no more than a couple weeks for Turner to see Lloyd's special ability as a receiver and moved him to offense. Does he wish he had remained at defensive back?
"Yeah, they get more money," Lloyd said with a huge smile on his face. "I was going both ways when I got on campus. When I came out of high school, I was a kicker, punter, receiver, defensive back. Coach Turner saw that I could fit in the receiver corps and gave me the opportunity."
He also spent time with the Illinois track team, something most fans forget. He had high jumped 7' in high school.
"I was on the track team for 2 years. My best high jump at Illinois was 6'-10 and 1/4", but my freshman year I did get third in the indoors in the high jump and third in the 60 meter hurdles."
Lloyd played three years before departing a year early for the pro draft. He has no regrets.
"It wasn't something I was on the fence about. I knew that was gonna be my path. I wasn't jumping in head first. I was willing to do the necessary work to make it successful. So I just continue to try to make my path work."
He has certainly done that. 2010 was truly special for Lloyd. He was named a starter for the AFC at receiver in the Pro Bowl after grabbing 77 passes for 1448 yards and 11 touchdowns. After some frustrating years with inconsistent results, success was overdue.
"It feels good. I don't like using the phrase 'hard work' because we all work hard. I was blessed to be in a situation where the offensive coordinator and the quarterback believed in me. They believed that I could go up and make the plays, and the quarterback trusted that I was going to get open. He gave me a lot of opportunities, and I was ready to seize the moment."
Injuries affected two of his NFL seasons, but a lack of opportunity and trust in him prevented him from having similar success several other years. Lloyd sees perseverance to overcome obstacles as key to his rejuvenation.
"I think that's the moral of the story. When people ask me how do I feel, it's not necessarily a story of a breakout season or an emerging star or a miraculous comeback. It was just perseverance.
"In playing 8 seasons, that's a career. Being consistent and having respect from my peers and from the coaches, that's what I play the game for. So it's great to have the opportunity, to be ready to seize that opportunity and be acknowledged for it by my peers."
After a great season, Lloyd would have liked to get back to it quickly. But the NFL lockout has all pros looking for alternatives until the deadlock is finally resolved.
"Oh yeah. Even in a regular off season, a month in I'm ready to get back around the guys and get back working out and getting ready to play the season."
Of course, just as his perspective on college memories changed over the years, so has his attitude toward all the work pro players must endure.
"Now going into my 9th year, I like to rest. Even in the top years, I feel the mini camps are too much. But for the young guys, it's definitely necessary to have all that extra work so they can get acclimated to the speed of the game. But for the older guys, we're loving it."