CHAMPAIGN - In a year of political and societal tension, Illinois head coach Lovie Smith encourages his players to join the discussion.
"This is what I tell our team as a whole, I want them to be involved in their community and what's going on in their world," Smith said Monday at his weekly press conference. "Politics, I want them to be involved in politics. I'd like for them to support a candidate and just know the reason you're supporting them and be vocal about it."
San Francisco 49ers quarterback has set off a firestorm of debate due to his silent protest of the national anthem in support of the Black Lives Matters movement.
Illinois hasn't been on the field during the national anthem yet this season -- the team is in the locker room during the anthem at home games (all three games have been at home this season) and won't be on the field for the anthem until the Rutgers game -- but Smith supports his players to be activists for causes they believe in.
"Things they don't like, I'd like them to say that," Smith said. "If they're being quiet, that means that you agree with what's being said. As a basic rule, that's what we go with. If there's something someone feels strongly about, I assume they will let everyone know that."
While some coaches may coach their players up on what to say (and what not to say), Smith said he promotes his players thinking for themselves.
"I do not tell our players what to say in press conferences. We're constantly teaching on things and how we do things, but I don't specifically tell guys what to say and what not to say."
Lovie responds to campus shooting
One person died and five others were wounded during a shooting on the University of Illinois campus early Sunday morning. Smith said he will address the shooting with his team.
"In society in general, there are things going on always," Smith said. "We address where our players should be as much as anything and what they should do in certain situations. I just think that once you get your program where you want it to be, as things pop up, it's not like you have to call a special meeting to go over things. You're constantly going over where they should be, what they should be doing most of the time. I know that's unfortunate, but that's our society nowadays. Things kind of pop up."
Smith rarely gives out injury information, but he gave some details of his team health on Monday.
Smith said he hopes to have redshirt freshman starting guard Gabe Megginson and senior punter Ryan Frain back for Saturday's game.
Frain missed the last two games after suffering wounds from a bicycle injury. Megginson missed the Western Michigan game with a lower leg injury.
"Gabe is looking a lot better, I will say that," Smith said. "Wednesday was our last practice ... so we haven't seen him, but he ran pretty good yesterday. I would expect him back. Well, I hope he would be back."
Smith said wide receiver Desmond Cain, who missed the WMU game with a knee injury according to Smith, is "also getting better."
Smith added that fullback Austin Roberts suffered a "knee injury that is a little bit more serious. It's not just a typical few days out knee injury."
Purdue game time set
This is quite the year for fans who are not fans of morning kickoffs. Three of the first four Illini games started just after 2:30 p.m. and the Northwestern game kicked off after 7 p.m.
The streak of p.m. start times will continue with the Big Ten announcing that the Oct. 8 home game against Purdue will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and air on the Big Ten Network.
Illinois has two other 2:30 p.m. kickoffs on the schedule: Oct. 22 at Michigan and Nov. 12 at Wisconsin. The Illini have 11 a.m. kickoffs for their Oct. 15 game at Rutgers and the Oct. 29 homecoming game against Minnesota.
The stats don't paint a pretty picture for Illinois' trip to Lincoln. Per the Illinois game notes provided by the UI sports information department:
- The Illini are 1-7 at Lincoln historically with the only win coming in 1924.
- The Illini have lost 13 straight and 22 of their last 23 against opponents ranked in the AP Poll. Their only win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus in 2007? Their 2011 home win over No. 22 Arizona State. The Illini's 2014 win over Minnesota was the only victory over a team in the Coaches Poll since 2011.
- Illinois has lost 13 of its last 15 games following a bye.