The Hybrid is a weekly Big Ten football preview, plus relevant or whimsy games from the national slate
Before he was 18, he was 3.
The first time I saw Mikey Dudek play football was on a swampy night in the fall of 2012. I remember walking up to the field in north Naperville and seeing a player in my lucky number and immediately writing him off due to his height and complexion. First impressions, right?
Even playing WR for a team with the greatest RB in my school's history (Joey Rhattigan, who went on to play for Princeton), Mikey stood out. The speed, the cuts, the agility, the hands. He was a constant deep threat, and even though he always contributed, it still almost felt like he was underutilized as a junior. He -- along with that aforementioned RB and a truly special senior class -- led Neuqua Valley High School to a perfect regular season and state semifinal. Both of those things had never happened before in school history and have not happened since.
In the semis, Mikey housed the opening kickoff for a 99-yard TD.
For a high school in the Illinois suburbs, it was impossible not to think of Devin Hester's return in the Super Bowl against the Colts five years earlier. Sadly, like Hester's, it did not guarantee victory. The Wildcats fell 26-21, and the dream season came up a touch short. CB Brad Thompson said something so simple that it's always stuck with me: "It was either going to end this week or next week"; it was his way of saying the moments were finite, capped, but that was OK as long as we -- they -- didn't take them for granted. I got the feeling they never did.
In 2013, with a new QB and many new starters, Mikey was the focal point. He played WR, prevent safety, caught bombs, took handoffs, returned kicks, returned punts; he was even part of an onside kick package. No. 3, again, housed a kickoff in a big game -- this time against our crosstown rival Waubonsie Valley in the stadium of North Central College.
No one could catch him; few could even touch him. Earlier that year was The Catch. I've linked it before, I will probably link it again -- it was the single most impressive athletic feat I've ever firsthand witnessed.
We lost the damn game, but that flex was stuck in my head like a song. It even went viral on the Yahoo front page.
I remember sitting in the stands with my buddy, a former University of Iowa sprinter, talking up Mikey before the game.
He's like Calvin Johnson in Wes Welker's body
Factoring in Johnson's premature retirement and Welker's... post-mature retirement, the comparison seems eerier now. I'm sure my friend was more than skeptical, but after that moment, all doubt was erased. For the lazy or uninitiated, it would be very easy to pigeonhole him as a pure slot receiver -- but this guy did everything, for real; numbers untoppable, skill undeniable. He was named offensive player of the year in the conference -- an honor typically reserved for QBs or RBs.
"He's the best receiver I've ever seen," (Neuqua Valley) coach Bill Ellinghaus said.
When it came time for him to pick a college, the decision kind of made itself. The skepticism I shed long ago had of course permeated its way up the ladder to the collegiate level, where size is almost always the name of the game. While I was thinking Alabama or Oregon, Mikey's actual offers were from Illinois State, North Dakota, and -- the lone Power 5 program -- Illinois. He finished up high school before the spring semester and enrolled early downstate in Champaign, showing loyalty to the local (ish) school who believed in his potential.
That summer, the Illini released a two deep, and our man's name was on it. I was piqued. Sure, it never seemed out of the question that he could find success in college, but right away? With that just-out-of-high-school frame? As a true freshman?
Mikey was on the field for his first possible game that fall. And he did what he always did: found the damn end zone. I cried, but I always cry at the good stuff. I even took a Vine of the TV, because that was something people kind of did then. Here was our guy, on television, from our town, still killing it. His freshman year was this perfect dream; consistent touches, TDs, playmaking. As someone who spent most of my sports life hating the Illini, I was now getting frequent phone alerts like they were my real team and rooting for them harder than my actual squads. I even drove up to Evanston to see Illinois-Northwestern during the Michigan-Ohio State game because I knew Mikey would deliver and Michigan wouldn't.
He of course caught a TD right near our end zone while Michigan lost by double digits. Decision affirmed. A win that day put Illinois at 6-6 and gave them bowl eligibility -- the only time that's happened in the last six years. The Illini faithful now got to see what we'd seen for the last two years, and they fell in love too. The NFL seemed obvious, though years away.
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But then, in his first collegiate offseason, everything changed. He tore his ACL and was forced to miss the 2015 season. Before the 2016 campaign, he tore his ACL a second time and was sidelined yet again. In 2017, he made a comeback. And, like always:
But he got banged up again and was limited in the back half of the season.
This year, 2018... this year was supposed to be different. Knee healed, body rested, Mikey declared himself "150 percent healthy" going in. After another multi-catch game in Week 1, everything was looking up... until it wasn't.
I can't believe I've gone this long without dropping an f-bomb. The only reason I probably haven't is I'm trying to hold myself to this standard.
You cant allow adversity to define your life. You must take the good with the bad and continue to move forward. I am forever greatful for all the support I have received these past 5 years. #NoBadDays Thank you Illini Nation— Mikey Dudek (@MDFlash_7) September 3, 2018
I have covered Neuqua Valley football for seven years, and there has never been a player like him. Adults wanted his autograph, kids dressed like him for Halloween:
He came back from Illinois to give a speech to the team his freshman year. Whether it was peers or admirers, the dude always seemed to have time for everybody:
Need your feel-good story of the day?— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) February 10, 2018
9-year-old Colton Rahn got the surprise of a lifetime from @IlliniFootball. Check out a look at his day below, and make sure you watch until the end to see a celebration he'll never forget. #ColtonCourage #CPWarrior #Illini pic.twitter.com/5dkkIClznL
I've watched Denard and Charles Woodson and Vick and Johnny and Cam and Vince and Reggie... the best ones are electric. They make you feel like they're the only one on the field; like a bright sun cutting through dull clouds. And, for what feels like a sliver of time now, that was the gift Mikey gave to us every Friday then Saturday.
So yes, I want to end this with "College football is cruel and cold and it will stab your heart out the second you let your guard down or even if you don't," but I can't. Because no bad days.
Thank you for everything you gave to all of us, 3. I still believe you can do anything.
"I'm dying before cancer."
TCU (16) at SMU: Whatever.
New Mexico at Wisconsin (5):
Mississippi State (18) at Kansas State: Knowing literally zilch about Mississippi State... it feels like they shouldn't be ranked this high. Or at all. What do we think? Does anyone know more than nothing?
Western Michigan at Michigan (21): I will be going to Ann Arbor this weekend to witness the train wreck firsthand. The good news is it's at home.
That stat blows my mind Michigan doesn't have a win against a ranked opponent in a true road game since 2006 via @NBCSports.— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) September 2, 2018
The bad news is we still have this guy at the helm.
BREAKING NEWS Jim Harbaugh Judy rewrote the United States Constution pic.twitter.com/YPSNfYZSh2— PFTCommenter (@PFTCommenter) September 1, 2018
The worse news is last week ain't go so well:
FINAL: Notre Dame 24, Michigan 17 pic.twitter.com/Y07R34otVN— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) September 2, 2018
The worst news is there doesn't appear to be an offense:
If youre Michigan, how do you describe what youre running offensively?— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) September 2, 2018
Pro-style finesse power spread with some other stuff?
He's not wrong. It's, like, this rat mustache spread that thinks it's tough and powerful. It's like watching a skinny shooting guard trying to post up centers after spending the summer practicing moves in a driveway alone. It's not gonna translate, guys. This is gonna be (another) long, bad year.
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Unrelated to anything, really: got a chuckle out of Rashan Gary quoting himself in his own tweet.
* * *
Lastly, I lost a humiliation bet to Notre Dame fan and unarguable clod Z.W. Martin last week. The stakes? I am not allowed to eat chicken for seven weeks. Aw man, I shoulda said "the steaks," shouldn't I?
So yeah, dumb. Bad. So bad. Not good. These are the banana boys.
Eastern Michigan at Purdue: Longtime readers know Purdue has never been a favorite of mine, but shit changed last year now that they have a cool coach and do sometimes good things. Like, if you're going to lose, do it like this:
I believe in nothing, yet I believe in him.
Duke at Northwestern: Cancel this series, it's no longer amusing.
UCLA at Oklahoma (6): Legit forgot Chip Kelly went to UCLA until I saw some headline that was like "Chip Kelly's UCLA debut was a disaster!" I'm sure a lot of it was Wilton Speight's fault, but I don't want to look it up solely to be saddened.
Portland State at Oregon (23): Can ya... can ya get to No. 19?
Arkansas State at Alabama (1): One week in, Alabama has done an exaggerated impression of what they always do: fearful devastation on the field and annoying off the field chicanery.
Sallie Mae: When are you planning to pay on your student loans?— Kishuuuhhh (@KishaMakesItFun) September 3, 2018
Our fearless leader approves.
Go fuck yourself, Delicate Genius. https://t.co/uStQ0wjpK7— The Official Kirk Ferentz Fan Club Account (@PV_GIA) September 2, 2018
Georgia (3) at South Carolina (24): Aw man -- I forgot about this dude.
Sounded like Rodrigo Blankenship got bigger cheers than even Jake Fromm in the pregame lineup announcements. pic.twitter.com/goYCra73YL— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) September 1, 2018
Rutgers at Ohio State (4): /continues to monitor Haskins' ability to terrify and destroy
"Urban deleted my other sign" pic.twitter.com/kSWXmmJyQY— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 1, 2018
Ball State at Notre Dame (8):
Spencer Hall RT'd that with the caption "mother's special boy", and I haven't stopped laughing.
Colorado at Nebraska: Take two, Huskers.
North Carolina at East Carolina: Gotta love the mega awesome hit that also doesn't make you fear brain trauma.
North Dakota at Washington (9): Did you not lose last week, Huskies? Why are you in my Top 25? Be gone.
Iowa State at Iowa: This is the take I've been waiting for.
I know this is going to feather ruffle, but time to dump "Enter Sandman." It just is. Look in your hearts.— Marc Morehouse (@marcmorehouse) September 1, 2018
Time for Japandroids' "Fire's Highway." The chorus "We dreamed it, now we know" is every Saturday everywhere. And there's a perfect amount of rally "oooo oh ohhhhh oooos."
...and congrats, KF.
But also congrats to all of us -- the great paint experiment already paid off.
Im about to recreate the Drake Views cover on the water tower. pic.twitter.com/6kaFZb1VGJ— Bobby L. (@bobbystompy) September 1, 2018
/continues to aggressively monitor Fant's productivity for fantasy (and fan) purposes
South Carolina State at UCF (19): Someone in a column said UCF is "continuing to play like the national champs", and all I can say is please sign me up for this stubborn ass revisionist history.
Savannah State at Miami (FL) (22):
Yeah -- I'm sad, too.
Maryland at Bowling Green:
Maryland took a delay of game to honor Jordan McNair. Texas declined the penalty. pic.twitter.com/7bVkKNVWLW— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) September 1, 2018
Clemson (2) at Texas A&M: Nothing from CT, and we had deadline early this week, so I apologize. Or he apologizes. Whichever.
UPDATE: Clemson Tom don't miss no deadlines.
If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band. But if you’re gonna beat my Tigers, you better have a miracle (FYI Jimbo ain’t got a miracle, but he’s got one hell of a receding hairline).
Has anyone actually listened to a Jimbo Fisher press conference? The man talks in sentence fragments, nothing makes sense, and he runs circles around whatever question they give him. Honestly, I think we need to send him to a psychologist or psychiatrist or something. The man obviously has issues. If you think his hairline is halfway gone, just wait until our defense destroys that lackluster offense he has going in college station.
I will actually be in attendance for this game. Not sure how many beers I’m going to drink, but I know how many it’s gonna take for me to run on the field and steal their little miniature lassie pup. Answer is none, I’d steal that dog just 'cause I could. Ain’t scared of no man, especially a 12th man. What a weird tradition, Aggies. Go back to the Big 12 where you were still a middle tier team nobody cared about.
Y’all haven’t been anything since Johnny Manziel quit doing cocaine and moved on to Cleveland. Before that, you weren’t anything either. I mean, dang y’all -- why do you still continue to put out a football team every year?
Dabo beats Jimbo, and it’s gonna continue Saturday night, primetime TV.
Go eat your brisket and wear your boots 'cause we’re coming to stomp a mud hole in ya, son! And nothing but steers (ed- OHHHHH BOY) and well, you know the rest, in Texas, and I don’t see horns on you.
Southeastern Louisiana at LSU (11): QB (and tOSU transfer) Joe Burrow went 11/24 for 140 yards with no TDs or INTs. Yuck. A pick would have almost made it better; at least taking chances.
Baylor at UTSA: GIF of the year so far (wait for it).
ACU's coach drinking a sharp one pic.twitter.com/W3if5aUslG— nick (@nick_pants) September 2, 2018
Samford at Florida State: I wanna hang with these guys and just talk it out.
You cover yourselves in glitter, yet it is I who is made of sterile potassium
Alabama State at Auburn (7): I don't want anymore context of this play than this tweet.
Theres Bo Jackson, and then theres Dontavius Russell pic.twitter.com/tegfwtHDrj— Dontavius Russell (@russ_dont95) September 3, 2018
Kentucky at Florida (25): Got nothing for this one, so I'd like to reveal I'd never heard the AC/DC song "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" until two days ago. How big of a song was this? Like... above "Back In Black", "Highway To Hell", "Thunderstruck", or "Dirty Deeds"?
/looks up AC/DC's Spotify Top 5
OK, so no. But, like how big was it? I would like to be shamed or assured.
Western Illinois at Illinois:
Virginia at Indiana: Peyton Ramsey is the starting QB of my Big Ten fantasy football team, and I'm wondering if reverse name discrimination is what got him the gig.
Fresno State at Minnesota: Nah.
Penn State (13) at Pittsburgh: Ohhhhhh, these lucky sons of Franklins. Appalachian State was supposed to happen to you. You, I say.
"...but how could jet fuel melt steel beams? It's preposterous, really." pic.twitter.com/NOiXwyE8PA— RossWB (@RossWB) September 3, 2018
USC (17) at Stanford (10): How'd our true freshman QB do?
He went 22/35, 282 yards, 1 TD, no picks. Not a shabby debut. He also had -1 yards rushing, so let's hope that arm stays golden.
UConn at Boise State (20): This game is boring, so let's watch this totally unrelated clip five times and call it a day.
Shortest punt return TD in football history?pic.twitter.com/A00AdSL9G6— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 2, 2018
Michigan State (15) at Arizona State: /debates calling upset before looking up the spread
/looks up the spread
MSU -6. Calling the upset.
San Jose State at Washington State: So Wazzu's QB this year is a graduate transfer from East Carolina. He was supposed to Roll Tide (!!!) until Mike Leach gave him the pitch:
“How’d you like to come and lead the country in passing yards?” the WSU coach proposed – and Minshew committed on the spot, simultaneously joining a small club of players to ever spurn Nick Saban and Alabama.
Leach later admitted he tells that to everyone.
So, the dude's name is Gardner Minshew II... and he looks like this.
Worry not, it's catching on.
They're already doing cool and weird stuff:
By the way heres that bananas formation WSU ran for a couple of plays. Mike Leach is at it again ... pic.twitter.com/qz4C48epEY— CougCenter (@CougCenter) September 1, 2018
I predict a rousing 7-5.
Wrapping It Up...
Better than the rest pic.twitter.com/PECBToCP9H— Jeremy D. Larson (@jeremydlarson) September 2, 2018
Bobby Loesch is a weekly contributor to Go Iowa Awesome. Follow him on Twitter @bobbystompy or email to bobbyloesch [at] gmail.com.