CHAMPAIGN - The Dudek family had prior experience with a torn ACL.
Oldest son Danny Dudek -- who played at Dayton and is exactly one year older than younger brother Mikey Dudek -- suffered a torn ACL during his senior year of high school. So the family knew what to expect when the youngest son, Mikey, suffered the same injury in April.
"We were very realistic about expectations," said Rich Dudek, the father of Mikey and Danny. "We never set a timetable."
Mikey Dudek -- a Scout.com First Team Freshman All-America selection after accumulating the eighth 1,000-yard receiving season in Illinois football history -- suffered a torn ACL on April 8 during a non-contact drill at a spring practice. It wasn't until last week that Illini interim coach Bill Cubit confirmed that Dudek will redshirt and sit out the entire season.
Rich Dudek admitted that, for most of the process, the family had leaned toward redshirting the 2015 season.
"If I had to say yes or no, I'd say yes," Rich Dudek said. "Just because a kid like that needs every bit of his knee to play. We're not playing pee-wee football or high school football. It's Big Ten football. So when you're going against premier athletes you need to be 100 percent or better to go out and play the game, especially the way he plays it. I think realistically we thought it'd be a stretch (to play this season)."
Former Illinois coach Tim Beckman -- who was dismissed a week before the season due to preliminary results from an independent investigation into abuse allegations -- said in an April statement that "the doctors feel like (Dudek) could return to the field in October." While the head coach just reguargitated what doctors told him, his statement set an expectiaton that Dudek would return this season and created months of speculation and questioning about Dudek's return date.
"Personally, I think things were said in the heat of moment," Rich Dudek said. "I'm sure if Beckman were back in the same scenario, I don't think he would have said that. But I think things happened very quickly. You want to get kids back on the field. He probably thought, 'Oh, he'll be back in six months.' Some kids come back in six months. It's rare, but it wasn't outside the realm of possibility to have that. We weren't going to put a timeline on it. We wanted to go month-by-month and day-by-day."
Dudek has been running straight lines for months and startedlateral work and cutting in late August. Rich Dudek said his son could be cleared for full practice soon but reaffirmed that the Illini receiver will not return this season and use a full season of eligibility just to play a few games.
"To come back and play against Ohio State when you haven't been cleared for six months? I mean, the odds aren't really in your favor at that point," Rich Dudek said.
"He is feeling excellent. He's stronger and faster than he's ever been. He's just not game ready. It's just very difficult to go out and play the game. He hasn't run a play in six months. You get to a point where physically you're good, but it's just that mental aspect of coming back. I've heard for a lot of people, it takes a year. Until you take that first hit, mentally you just don't know."
The Illini (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) and the coaching staff -- which is attempting to earn the long-term job -- could use Dudek's help to make a bowl game. But Rich Dudek said the staff never pressured Mikey to return this season.
"We really leaned on Dr. (Robert) Bain, the training staff and the rehab staff and got phenomenal care," Rick Dudek said. "We just couldn't be happier with Dr. Bane. Our other son had Dr. (Brian) Cole who did Derrick Rose's surgery. Initially, we thought we were going to go that route. But Dr. Bane has been nothing but phenomenal and transparent. The rehab staff has worked Mikey really hard at the right pace. There's been no pressure from the coaching staff one way or the other. They just rely on the doctors and training staff to do their job."
April 8 was a tough day for Mikey Dudek and his family. But everything is going according to plan since then. Mikey is getting stronger, faster and setting himself up for an optimal long-term impact at Illinois.
Of course, watching from the sidelines hasn't been easy for Mikey nor his family.
"Quietly, every week has hurt (to watch)," Rick Dudek said. "It's hard every week to go to the games and watch him stand there. The kid's been playing since he was five and never had a break (an injury) ever. It's tough every week to go. And you look at the other kids on that team, and you know he can be a leader. It's hard. It's tough. He wants to play. He's a competitor."