Freshman Dudek Not Overwhelmed

Many of those who saw Mike Dudek's high school highlights figured he would be successful in his career at Illinois, but few expected him to be the go-to guy this early in his Illinois tenure. But Dudek is handling it like someone who has been there before.

Mike Dudek has quickly grown into a favorite target for his quarterbacks and a favorite for Illinois fans in general. His highlight reel catches and not-so-freshman like play has proven Dudek to be beyond his years.

"It always sucks when you lose, but you can't sit on that," Dudek said of Illinois' recent struggles. "We'll watch tape and work harder for the next opponent. I just focus on the game and if we're winning."

Dudek's individual success is hard to deny, and the fruits of his extra effort in practice and preparation are showing on the field.

"It's nice and I work hard at it, but we all do," he said. "It's nice having success in the game after working hard in practice."

Dudek clicked with now-injured quarterback Wes Lunt early and often, especially in his 8 catch, 200 yard effort against Purdue. But Dudek knows that he has to continue to get open and make plays no matter who is under center.

"Wes got roughed up, but when he went down, we're still confident with Reilly," Dudek said. "We're confident with both Wes and Reilly, and if one goes down, the other can step up."

The trust that Dudek has from both his coaches and his quarterbacks is huge for the freshman. But Dudek knows that he has not only earned the trust he has now, but also that he will have to continue to perform on the field to maintain his productivity and success.

"It's big that they trust me," he said. "You always want to have a big role with the team. Coach Beckman always talks about stepping up when your number is called. You have the opportunity to make a play."

Just ten months ago, Dudek was packing up his belongings and preparing for a move to Champaign. Now, he leads the Illini in receiving as a true freshman. Given that he is less than a year departed from high school, it is incredible how quickly Dudek has adjusted to the college level.

"It was definitely a huge adjustment," Dudek said. "The guys are bigger and faster, but as the games keep going I feel myself calming down and becoming more confident. I'm learning more watching film. I watch film with Coach Bellamy all the time. He teaches me a lot more about reads. Experience is a big part of why I'm making more catches now."

With Wes Lunt out, Dudek now will be catching passes from both Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey. Dudek's time this spring working with both of the Illinois backups will now pay dividends as they step into more prominent roles.

"I feel like we all have rhythm," he said. "Coming in the spring was huge since I got to work with all three quarterbacks."

Dudek, despite his early personal success, is still very much a team player, though. And if he could trade his personal success for wins, he would in a heartbeat.

"You'd rather have a win and zero catches than a lot of catches and a loss," he said. "We work hard, and to not be successful as a team sucks."

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