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Exams just part of week for EIU Panthers
Fall semester finals vs. football quarterfinals? No contest if you ask Kamu Grugier-Hill.
“Honestly, finals are the last thing on our minds right now,” the Eastern Illinois sophomore lin3ebacker said. “You can go through school anytime but we’re playing for a national championship.”
Among the firsts in this 12-1 record-setting season for Eastern is now having final exams in a week leading up to a 7 p.m. Friday NCAA football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal game against Towson at O’Brien Field.
“No, I’ve never had to play a game during finals week,” said Dino Babers, who is in his second year as EIU’s head coach after 27 years as an assistant at 12 different schools.
The architect of this rebuilt EIU team that in two years has transformed from back-to-back 2-9 seasons to back-to-back playoffs seasons and now a No. 2 national FCS ranking does give the answer professors want to hear.
“To me, you are a student-athlete first,” Babers said. “I don’t know how to do it any other way. I just hope our team members take those A’s and B’s and take that into the game.”
These priorities do not mean the coach has canceled practice leading up to this nationally televised game against 11-2 Towson with a spot in next week’s semifinals at stake.
In fact, the Panthers went to Champaign on Tuesday to utilize the University of Illinois’ indoor practice field.
“With the temperatures we’re trying to get one warm practice,” Babers said. “It even intensifies with this being a short week.”
Plus, this is not just review like last week before a rematch with Ohio Valley Conference foe Tennessee State.
After beating the Tigers for the second time this year, an even more convincing 51-10 in the second meeting, the OVC champion Eastern now faces the Colonial Athletic Association co-runner-up Towson of Maryland.
“It’s something we haven’t seen before,” EIU wide receiver Jeff LePak said. “It’s going to be new for us. It’s going to be fresh. They do different things than we’ve seen.”
So that means studying football film of a new opponent as well textbooks and notes from a semester of classes.
“Obviously as a student-athlete it’s something you have to balance,” LePak said. “You stay up all night for final exams and then you have another exam on Friday with the game.”
Asked whether tests or the game caused more stress, the junior transfer from Baylor said, “I wouldn’t say stress, but I’m more anxious for the game.”
Fans apparently need not be too worried that their Panthers will show for Friday’s game sleepy-eyed from studying or flunking out from too much attention to football.
“For us, it’s really not been a factor because of our guys’ schedules have worked out,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “We’re fortunate that we didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments because of finals.”
LePak sees finals week providing only a small distraction from game preparation.
“It does to an extent but you don’t have classes so the time you had classes you can study,” he said. “I can take time when I’m not studying to watch film.”
And as for all-night study sessions, “We’ll be rested,” LePak said.
Grugier-Hill said: “You have to balance it out. You can only do so much studying and you an only look at so much film.”
While parents usually cannot monitor how much or little these players study for final exams, they can watch them on ESPN2 in Friday night’s game chosen from the four FCS quarterfinals for the prime time.
“Now we have the opportunity to be in the exact same time slot as Northern Illinois and Bowling Green were last week,” Babers said.
This may make a football watcher out of the coach’s mother in California for at least one night.
“I told my mom we were going to be on ESPN2,” Babers said. “She said ‘Do I have that channel?’ I said ‘Mom, I’m pretty sure you get it. Check with my nieces.’ I think she will be watching us.”