HAWL IN: Mikey Dudek’s greatest catch: Positivity

CHICAGO – Some people are predisposed to positivity in ways that can’t be explained. It’s an admirable trait for any man or woman to have, and it always manages to remain even when things go very, very wrong many, many times.

Self pity takes over for many when the latter happens – and it’s easy for that to happen. Not having the luck on multiple occasions can drain even the strongest of people.

Maybe some expected the same from one of the most resilient College Football players in the country early this week, when the third time was definitely the harm for his career.

Mikey Dudek, a senior receiver at Illinois, once again saw his season end due to a knee injury suffered in the team’s opener against Kent State on September 1st. It’s the third time that’s happened to the receiver since he was named a freshman All-American in 2014, and puts an end to his Illini career.

Yes, his third knee injury that ended his season, having torn the ACL in his right knee during the preseason of 2015 and 2016. For those around the Illini football program, which has been lacking for some positive news the last few years, the time had come to endure yet another major blow.

“‘It’s kind of hard to put it into words,” said Lovie Smith of Dudek’s latest injury. “Mike has meant so much to our program.”

Yet what was Dudek, who watched his Illinois career come to an end after playing just eight games since 2015, react to this latest adversity? The same way he did in 2015 and 2016, when he showed his character in a pair of rehabilitation stints.

The statement came Monday afternoon, not long after his latest injury was announced by Smith. It probably came at or less than 24 hours after his diagnosis following the Kent State game. Frustration could have kept him from tweeting at all, or perhaps pointing out his misfortune,  or maybe getting angry at his fate.

Nope. The statement says it all.

“You can’t allow adversity to define your life. You must take the good with the bad and continue to move forward. I am forever grateful for all the support I have received these past 5 years. Thank you Illini Nation,” said Dudek, and in the process defined his career.

His 76 catches and 1,038 yards and six touchdowns his freshman year that earned him freshman All-American accolades are just stats. In the grand scale of Illini football, it’s a lifetime ago considering that three head coaches have led the program in that time. More will remember his resolve to come back not once but twice, doing so with Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit, and Smith as his head coaches, never waning in the challenge that is an ACL tear rehab.

Dudek stayed positive through a pair of sudden coaching changes – Beckman’s firing before the start of the 2015 season and Cubit being let go in favor of Smith in March of 2016 – and kept on course to return to the field. Even when more injuries crept up in the year he finally came back in 2017 – playing in seven of Illinois’ 12 games – he rallied for a strong offseason in preparation for 2018.

Then it happened again, but Dudek didn’t change course. The tweet showed that, his statement within showed that, as the receiver remains steadfast in his positivity when it would have been so easy to reverse it.

In the process, he helped his program. Good vibes have been tough to find in Illini football at times the past half-decade, with a major rebuild continuing under Smith with doubts as to when the program will be competitive in the Big Ten again.

But Dudek’s story shows the best of Illinois football, and one prominent member of the media picked up on the story, quick to shower praise.

Scott Van Pelt of ESPN followed through with his statement on Twitter, and dedicated his “One Big Thing to Dudek on Monday.

It’s a positive bit of attention for the program, brough on it’s most positive player. Indeed there were “No Bad Days” for Dudek, even when he couldn’t catch a break as he hoped to snag passes for one more season with the Illini.

Adversity, in the end, didn’t define him. His reaction to it did.