Luke Butkus Back On UI Campus

The special bond of the 2001 Fighting Illini football team was apparent as it won an outright Big 10 Championship and trip to the Sugar Bowl. It was apparent again as members of that team celebrated a reunion on the UI campus. Great leadership on that team paved the way to success. Center Luke Butkus was among the leaders.

Luke Butkus was the starting center on the 2001 Illinois football team that finished 10-2 and earned a BCS bowl bid. He has continued in football as a coach.

"I'm in Seattle, working with the offensive line for the Seahawks. It's my second year there. I started my career at the University of Oregon as a graduate assistant for two years. Coach (Ron) Turner took me to Chicago with him, and I got to assist on the offensive line with Coach (Harry) Hiestand for three years."

Speaking during his return to campus for the 2001 team's 10th anniversary, Butkus remembered his experiences as a player and lifelong love of the University of Illinois.

"I have tremendous memories here, since I was born. It was a privilege to come here and play, to be a part of a college tradition and be a part of a great season with these guys. It's incredible."

Dick Butkus is Luke's uncle, probably the greatest defensive player to ever grace Memorial Stadium. So family indoctrination made the younger Butkus's choice of Illinois an easy one. Getting back to campus isn't always easy as his career and Illini football parallel each other.

"We never seem to come back as much as we'd like, being in the business of coaching. We're playing Sundays when these guys are playing on Saturdays. When you do get to come back, it makes it that much more special."

Butkus was asked what made the 2001 team unique.

"We genuinely liked each other. We held each other accountable. It was more of a family situation where you never wanted to let the guy down next to you. From the top with leaders like Kurt (Kittner) to the last guy on the roster, we just held each other accountable."

Are there any unique memories that come to mind?

"Just the long days with guys, we were there and it was business. We went to war with these guys, and we all wanted the same thing. So it was great."

He was asked to describe the strong momentum wave that propelled the 2001 team to one big victory after another.

"It all stems back to the way we felt about each other. The leadership stemmed from the top, from Coach Turner on down. He instilled that confidence in us. Being around each other day in and day out and working with each other, it meant a lot. We knew each other was gonna lay it on the line each day, each practice, each game.

"It was the chemistry; we genuinely liked each other. There's been a lot of teams that have said that, but they have never been a part of something that special. I didn't notice it when we were playing."

Each season as a coach, Butkus is supposed to help create the atmosphere of success he encountered at Illinois that season. As hard as it is to explain, it is even harder to duplicate.

"It's not easy to say what it was. Everyone tries to recreate it, but they can't. There are ways to help get your team together, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it."

Dick, Mark and Luke Butkus all helped the Illini to special seasons and major bowl games. It is assumed the presence of a Butkus on the team guarantees success. Are there any others in the pipeline?

"Yeah, they're coming. A little bit later. I have one boy, and my brothers have a bunch coming up."

Illini Nation will need to wait awhile for the little ones to mature. It is also waiting for the day a Dick Butkus statue will adorn the fields surrounding Memorial Stadium. Butkus was asked when that might come to fruition.

"When I'm hired to coach at the University of Illinois."

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