I hear, or I saw, you’re sporting a new look. You got a new haircut, huh?
Mikey Dudek: “Yeah, I finally cut the hair. I think it was about time. I think everyone would agree on that one.”
What was the idea behind growing it out? Was that just the injury hair?
Dudek: “I always wanted long hair, ever since I was younger. I watched guys in the NFL with all the long hair, so of course I wanted to do that. I never stuck to it, so when I got here, I decided I’d grow it. I actually grew it for two years and cut it on the two-year day and donated it.”
How long was the hair?
Dudek: “It was over 10 inches because that’s what I needed. I don’t know exactly how long it was.”
Who was happier: mom or the girlfriend?
Dudek: “Probably mom. The girlfriend likes it. Mom not so much.”
What was the workout today?
Dudek: “Actually, we just got back. We start our full-time workouts tomorrow. All the stuff leading up to tomorrow is just optional. So I just went in and stretched out a little bit. I lifted yesterday and will probably get a little jog in.”
So is it full-go, no restraints? Or you still working your way up?
Dudek: “No, I’m full go. I’ve been cleared now for about a month, month or two, so I’m full go. I was at home working out (during winter break) really trying to get back into things. Of course, I’m a little rusty right now running my routes and stuff because I didn’t do it for so long. But come spring ball, I’m full go, full everything, so I’m excited.”
What’s the mental aspect of all that? I saw you running sprints in August, but there is that mental aspect to it. For you, what’s that like to go through that part?
Dudek: “Really, just doing the same thing every day it was tough mentally. Physically, it doesn’t get so hard. But honestly, it just gets a little boring. You want to move on. You keep asking the strength coach, ‘When can I do other things? When can I progress faster?’ So really you just have to buckle down mentally. Luckily, I had (freshman running back) Dre Brown with me. He tore his ACL eight days after me, so I had him there in my corner and he really pushed me harder to get back.”
When that first happened, the release said you might be back in October. There was speculation of when you would come back. Did you plan all along on sitting out last year?
Dudek: “No, I didn’t. And I think where the whole me coming back in October thing came from I was going to have surgery the day after I got hurt. But I ended up waiting another month before I had surgery, so that’s why it all got pushed back so I could do prehab before the rehab to help it go faster actually. I always wanted to come back. That’s just the competitiveness in me. Once the time came, I really had to weigh my options. And sitting down probed to be the better option when looking at it for my future.”
Was there ever a time during the season you said, ‘I can play right now”?
Dudek: “No. Actually, no. I felt physically good, but there’s just that mental barrier. I’m very happy at this point that I listened to my trainers, and I sat down for the whole year.”
I remember talking to Tracy Abrams about his torn ACL recovery, and he said he got to appreciate the game from a different vantage point. Did you learn or take anything away from sitting out?
Dudek: “Yeah. I did. I’ve never battled as much adversity as I did this past year. It was tough, but I learned a lot. There’s a great support system around here, and I have a great family too that was always making sure I was happy and things were going well with life. (Wide receivers coach Mike) Bellay was great too just keeping me involved with things, keeping me at the receiver dinners, the receiver lunches, everything like that. He just made sure I was still involved. I’d still go watch film with him, do all that. It helped me learn a lot mentally, learning from the sidelines. It was tough at first just because it was something I’m not used to, but then I realized I was going to be out the whole year and I really had to buckle down and learn and try to prove myself as too.”
The staff has undergone a lot of change since the end of the season. What do you think of Bill Cubit coming back and what do you think of the staff so far?
Dudek: “I’m excited. I’m really excited. I’m really behind Coach Cubit as all of us are. I really feel like we’re that close to getting to the next level with this program. I think keeping him around was a great idea. I met some of the new (coaches) once and they’re all cool. The o-line coach (A.J. Ricker), he’s been here before so it’s good to see him again. As far as the other guys, they all seem like they’ve bought into Coach Cubit and want to do what’s best for the program too.”
If we had a five-man race for Illinois football, who’s the top-five fastest guys?
Dudek: “No order, I’d say Justin Hardee, Malik Turner, James Crawford -- he’s really fast too -- Dre Brown’s prettty fast, Caleb Day’s pretty fast. We got a lot of fast guys on the team I think it’d be a close call for the top-five guys.”
Does Mikey Dudek win the 40 though?
Dudek: “Yeah, I think so. Hopefully. Hopefully, I still can.”
Signing Day is in two weeks. I think you’ve earned your fourth star by now, by the way. But what was that day like for you?
Dudek: “It was awesome. I got to sign early in December because I came down for spring ball and came down from high school early. You really just think for the rest of your life I’m going to this awesome university close to home, playing in the Big Ten. It was everything for me.”
How do you help recruit?
Dudek: “Whenever I’m hosting a guy, I’ll take him around, take him out to eat, just show them the ropes of a college student here, tell them what it’s like. I always am straight up with them about everything. Never tell them just what they want to here. I always tell them the truth about everything. I just try to sell the program as best I can because obviously I fell in love with it. I know there’s a way for them to do so also.”
There was a rumor, and you can confirm or deny it, are you going with jersey No. 1 this year or are sticking with No. 18?
Dudek: “I was actually thinking about going to No. 1. But I’m going to stick with 18. I feel like I had a pretty decent freshman year with it. I was going to move to No. 1 sort of as a fresh start. Coach Cubit had offered it to me. But 1 comes with the stereotypes with it, the ego behind it. I just thought that wasn’t me. I’m just going to stick with what I have and get back to what I was.”