Freshman Jersey Number Day 2021

Jul 27, 2021

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I wait all summer for FJND and then it drops hours before I leave for a quick beach vacation. I had done well, writing several posts in advance (and on the airplane) so that I could relax at the beach and not sit there writing 90 Illini posts all day. But I'll be honest - FJND was in the back of my brain the whole time.

One of the most interesting beach house conversations: we found out that one member of our party had synesthesia. Well, she found out that she has synesthesia. That makes it sound like a disease and it's not. I'll just tell the whole story.

We're sitting around the table after dinner playing Trivial Pursuit. Note to all VRBO's: ALWAYS have Trivial Pursuit on the shelf. My wife and I are a team, and we're just rolling through lucky rolls and landing on the wedge spots. We nail the green question and get another pie piece. We ask for the green wedge and the friend putting it in our game piece says "so, a 2 then". We ask what she means, and she says that green is two (or maybe it was nine). We're all {head-tilt}, and she says "the numbers associated with the colors - 1 is yellow, 3 is red, 7 is brown..."

My wife, having heard of this before, said that she must be in the 0.5% of the population who has synesthesia. Numbers are associated with colors. We look it up, and now that's the topic for the rest of the game. Not all synesthetes associate colors with numbers, but all are some form of association. Rare cases are taste-related where someone hears the word locomotive and they immediately have the taste of pickles in their mouth (or whatever). For some reason, the brain ties this one thing over here to this other thing over there and boom, pickle trains.

If you want to read about it, here's the Wikipedia page and if you want a deeper dive here's something from the American Psychological Association. Personally, I love stuff like this. Especially when it's "I thought everyone was like this" stuff. If I'm honest, I really wish I had the pickle train thing. Feels like there's a diet breakthrough there. Find out what word is associated with bacon cheeseburger and then make a two-hour loop recording of someone saying that word.

I do not have synesthesia. But I do have this weird thing with uniform numbers. I study football recruits, I start to envision them wearing certain numbers, Freshman Jersey Number Day comes along, and then seeing Kionte Curry in the #1 jersey is just about as exciting for me as winning Trivial Pursuit on a question about who model Kate Moss signed with as an 18 year-old (Calvin Klein). Actual quote from my Kionte Curry LLUOI post several months ago: "is he going to be the best Illini cornerback since Vontae Davis?'. Number given to Kionte Curry: Vontae Davis' #1.

As you will see below, uniform numbers either hit me or they don't. It's not planned out. It's just "hey, #64 really fits him" for one guy and then "26 for an outside linebacker? really?" for the next. No rhyme or reason.

So let's just get to it, shall we? Every newcomer number (freshmen + transfers) in alphabetical order so that I don't do all the single-digits at once. Name, number, and my immediate reaction. Scholarship players only because I don't have a good idea what number would fit for the walkons (I need to study the player first). I'll also include the freshmen who enrolled early but not the transfers who enrolled early because I feel like I already reacted to CJ Hart wearing #5 (don't really like single-number linebackers), Prather Hudson wearing #24 (perfectly cromulent number for a safety), and Chase Hayden in the 22 (my youngest son wore 22 playing football so that's a special number for me and always looks good).

OK, to the numbers:

Jafar Armstrong - #8

This makes sense. He was #8 at Notre Dame, he's 8 at Illinois. I associate 8 with G-Mo, but he's the opposite receiver from G-Mo. Armstrong is more the "running back playing wide receiver to get him the ball in space" guy, and Geronimo was the tall, long-striding outside receiver.

I don't know where I was going with that. I like Armstrong in the 8. Next.

Jack Badovinac - #72

Here's where I remind you that there's no methodology here. FJND is not a formula. It's not "I only like odd numbers for offensive linemen" thing. I either like it or I don't like it. Can't really tell you why. The Colgate transfer offensive lineman wearing #72 is... completely neutral to me. I have no reaction. It is the numerical equivalent of a glass of water. And I mean that in the best way.

Zach Barlev - #68

No idea why I have an averse reaction to the #68 Illini jersey. Maybe it's my love of #67 and then 68 is just the cousin 67 brings with him to the party? 67 I love because of all the University stuff that is branded with 67 (1867). Wear the 67 at Illinois and fans are wearing your number everywhere. 68? Just another number. Sorry, Zach - I mean no offense.

Keion Battle - #83

OK so this one isn't a scholarship player, it's a walkon. But I just wanted to note that Kenny Battle's son has walked on at Illinois. OBVIOUSLY I'd want him wearing #33, but I don't think you can play wideout wearing 33. So 83 is the next best choice. It's just like someone took a marker and colored-in the other side of the first three. Take your glasses off - looks like a 33, right? I'll take it.

Pat Bryant - #13

Oh man do not like. I don't have triskaidekaphobia or anything, but I really wanted Bryant in a single digit. Actually, as I'm typing that, there might not have been any single digits available on offense for the freshmen? 7, 8, and 9 were available, but Brian Hightower switched from 14 to 7, Jafar Armstrong took 8, and Art Sitkowski took 9. 1 through 6 were already taken on offense so... scratch all of that. Bryant couldn't have had a single digit number. Him getting the 13 has now been upgraded to "just OK."

Samari Collier - #16

I'm so weird with my quarterback numbers. I collected football cards as an 8 year-old. So my numbers for quarterbacks were shaped by the Ken Anderson/Doug Williams/Joe Theisman generation. You wear 7 or you wear 12 or you wear 14. I'm aware that Joe Montana wore 16, but I never liked the Niners so I never liked 16. Maybe that's it? Maybe I see 16 and I don't like it because there's this Domer/Niner undercurrent to it? Whatever it is, not a fan.

Kionte Curry - #1

BOOM favorite number in three years. I couldn't love this more. Not just because of the history of the #1 the last decade or so, but also because of the Vontae thing. I'm irrationally excited about Curry already and then he gets the Vontae Davis/Terry Hawthorne number. I've seriously thought about this 35 times since the numbers came out Wednesday night.

What's the history of the #1 the last decade or so you ask? Vontae had it, then Terry Hawthorne had it (after switching from 12), and then Tim Beckman said it would have to be earned. So no one wore it from 2013 through 2015. Lovie had no such restrictions, so Jaylen Dunlap wore it for a year, AJ Bush wore it for a year, and then The One grabbed it (Isaiah Williams) on offense. But I've been waiting for the next Illini defensive back to get the #1. And now it goes to Curry. Love it.

Daniel Edwards - #2

Love this too! Maybe both Edwards and Curry are our starting cornerbacks in 2024 and when we propel ourselves into the national spotlight with a win at Penn State on October 12, 2024, our starting corners are called the One-Two Punch. Curry and Edwards. #OTP4life.

Also, something worth noting here: safety Derrick Smith was #2 last year. He's been switched to #4 and the 2 was given to Edwards. That's quite rare. Maybe Smith wanted to switch to 4 or something (not sure why that would be the case - it was vacant on defense last season), but if the junior was asked to switch so that the freshman could have the number 2, that's very interesting.

Josh Gesky - #73

73 will forever be associated with Jack Cornell in my mind. Beard Talk was really the first thing I did as a fake media member. They let me do interviews in Rantoul in 2011 (after refusing my requests in 2009 and 2010) and one of the first things I did that anyone responded to was Beard Talk with Jack Cornell. So Josh Gesky is now going to have to grow a massive beard or else he will be doing the 73 a disservice.

Prince Green - #15

15 will always be Kurt Kittner in my mind, so 15 will always be an offensive number. 15 on defense just feels weird. I have no explanation for that. There are plenty of numbers that can cross over - I love 2 on offense and 2 on defense - but 15 is always offense in my mind. Need a defender wearing 15 to change my mind. You're up, Prince.

DJ Johnson - #26

Of all of these, this one is the biggest head-scratcher. I'm sure it's probably "give him this number for now, if he's on special teams, great, if not, we'll get him a new number once he's in the rotation", but just on the surface, 26 for an outside linebacker is weird. Especially this new hybrid DE/OLB position where these guys will be edge rushing one play and dropping into coverage the next. 26? 26 is rushing the quarterback?

Josh Kreutz - #64

Man, it has been a minute since an offensive lineman wore The O'Donnell. Has there even been a scholarship offensive lineman wearing #64 since O'Donnell's senior season in 2007? Let me look this up.

There has not. A few walkons (Nate Swanson, Jack Broeker), but that's it. Wait, was Swanson a scholarship lineman? Now I can't remember. He might have been a scholarship guy.

Regardless, the 64 hasn't appeared on the Illinois offensive line since 2007. Now, in a few years, it will. (Unless Kreutz switches out of the 64 to take his dad's #57 after it's vacated by Evan Kirts.)

Sed McConnell - #55

We saw this one in the spring. I like it mostly for the Jamal Milan vibes. I don't think I would have liked this in the past, but Jamal Milan warmed me to interior defensive linemen wearing 55.

Josh McCray - #0

FASCINATING. The NCAA didn't allow the #0 to be used until last season, and no players took the 0 last year, so McCray will be the first Illini player to wear the number. A tailback wearing #0? I'm intrigued.

Kenenna Odeluga - #39

I've probably said this before, but I'm pretty sure 39 is the worst number. Again, no offense to Kenenna - I'm guessing he'll switch into something different by the time he finds the rotation - but 39 is just the worst, right? What possible purpose does this number serve? Once you get to 37 or 38 you're just "can we please get to the 40's already" and have no time for 39.

Is there even a famous NFL player to wear 39? Let me look this up. It appears the most famous NFL player to wear 39 is Larry Csonka with the Dolphins. See what I mean?

(Sorry. Much respect for Csonka and the '72 Dolphins. But there's a reason no one ever chooses this number.)

Max Rosenthal - #49

I love it because of the name on the back. He could wear 39 and I'd love it. Once he's done playing, I will purchase a game-worn Rosenthal jersey and hang it on my wall for decades. So my love for this number transcends space and time. My last name is on the back, and that means I'll never have to be that guy having a jersey made with his own name.

Dylan Rosiek - #28

Here's how weird I am. Right now, in July of 2021, I very much dislike the #28 because of Northwestern's Chris Bergin. Most people have Big Ten basketball players that they hate, and I sometimes have Big Ten football players that I hate. You can't see their smirk like you can with Brad Davison, but when I see Chris Bergin on the field wearing #28 for Northwestern, I know he's smirking underneath that helmet. So I have soured on the 28 until Bergin is gone (one more year). I should recover by the time Rosiek makes the rotation.

(Honesty is required here: I hate Bergin because he's so freaking good in that undersized linebacker role for NW. Everything I wanted James Knight to be.)

Art Sitkowski - #9

Wonder what the discussion was like between Sitkowski and Jafar Armstrong. Sitkowski wore 8 at Rutgers, Armstrong wore 8 at Notre Dame, and then both transfer to Illinois at the same time. I'd be curious to know the decision making process in giving Armstrong the 8 and Sitkowski the 9. Not saying it was contentious - although a wing-eating contest would be a cool way to decide it - but I'm guessing there was some method to how the staff went about it.

Eddie Smith - #8

Smith wore 25 and 15 at Alabama but now moves to the 8 at Illinois. Looking up old photos when he was being recruited, he was pictured wearing 8 on his recruiting visit to Alabama. So that must have been the number he eventually wanted. It was occupied by linebacker Christian Harris the last two years, but now he gets the number at Illinois with Nate Hobbs having left for the NFL. I'd be curious if getting to wear 8 again was 3.5% of the reason he chose Illinois. Would be for me. But I'm weird.

DD Snyder - #3

You're still reading? Why are you still reading? This is so incredibly pointless. Well, thanks for reading this far.

If Snyder is a safety, then I need to start planning which 2022 safety recruit will get the #4. Here, how's this. Before signing day we flip Austin Brown from Wisconsin. We give Brown the #4. In 2024, at that Penn State game, the starting corners are Curry & Edwards and the starting safeties are Snyder & Brown. 1-2 at corner and 3-4 at safety. Let's make this happen. I already have "one two three FOUR FIVE six seven eight NINE TEN... ELEVEN TWELVE" in my head.

Tyler Strain - #20

Another "no idea why" thing for me: when I see a corner wearing #20, I think kick returner. I'm not sure there are even examples of that in Illini history. Have we even had someone returning kicks in the 20? No idea, but that's where my brain goes. So now I'm going to think of Tyler Strain as a cornerback/punt returner.

Kalen Villanueva - #54

OK so I know that with all the super seniors, our roster is going to have 120+ players. There are only 115 lockers in the locker room and some walkons are going to have to share this year. So numbers are scarce, even with the majority of the single digit numbers being used both ways.

But we have three 54's. Julian Pearl wears 54 on offense, Marc Mondesir wears 54 on defense, and... Kalen Villanueva will wear 54 at linebacker. An outside linebacker wearing 54 and an inside linebacker wearing 54? Why?

I've just been handed a note from my producer. Apparently, while everyone was covering Big Ten Media Days and I was flying to Florida to play Trivial Pursuit, it was announced that Marc Mondesir would take a medical year and will miss the 2021 season. So there's the answer.

Joriell Washington - #10

We learned this number in the spring (Washington was an early enrollee), so the big thing I was wondering here was if he'd appear on the updated roster as "Ricky". When Bret Bielema has referred to him in press conferences, he's called him Ricky Washington, not Joriell Washington. Much like the coaches calling Jartavius Martin "Quan" but his name remaining Jartavius on the roster, I'm not sure which one to use. So he's still Joriell Washington for now unless he tells the media he prefers to go by Ricky.

Oh, and #10 is perfectly fine for a safety.

Brody Wisecarver - #67

Here's what I was referencing above. It used to be that when the university made merch before a season, they'd sell the jersey number of a well-known player. Go back to 2008 and every jersey in the store was #7 (Juice). Then that changed around the time of the O'Bannon/UCLA lawsuit. Why should UCLA profit from the sale of an Ed O'Bannon jersey? After that, most of the jerseys (and t-shirts) became generic. Parents looking to wear their son's jersey to games would have to have something custom made.

I remember discussing this with Jake Feldmeyer's family because they lucked out. They could go to any Illini store and buy a t-shirt with their son's number because the University used 67 (for 1867) as the default. Just hop online and purchase something like this:

So congrats, Wisecarver family. If they still do this (I think they do?), you should be able to find all kinds of merch with your son's number. The lesson: if you're going to be an offensive lineman at Illinois, ALWAYS choose 67.

And never choose 39.


CapitalCityOutlaw50 on July 27, 2021 @ 02:11 PM

Steven Jackson was a pretty good 39 too. . .

JeffreyJordanTouchdownPass on July 28, 2021 @ 10:10 AM

Have to show some Fast Willie Parker #39 love too.

illinizeeman on July 27, 2021 @ 03:02 PM

You don't like any multiple of 13.

Robert on July 28, 2021 @ 09:21 AM

This is kind of blowing my mind right now.

What was I saying about not having triskaidekaphobia again?

IlliniBobLoblaw on July 28, 2021 @ 09:52 AM

You don't like any multiple of 13.

^ Next level comment! Almost makes me want to check past FJND posts to dig deeper.

arie_0444 on July 27, 2021 @ 04:05 PM

This is great!

BelieveInIllinois on July 27, 2021 @ 10:25 PM

FJND forever!!!

ILLhaveaBrewski on July 28, 2021 @ 07:52 AM

Robert Which beach/area were you at? I picture you as more of an Outer Banks guy than a Florida man.

Robert on July 28, 2021 @ 09:20 AM

I AM an Outer Banks guy. I've probably "beached" more there than anywhere else.

But when your friends have a house rented on Sanibel Island for the month, and they invite you down, and those MDW to RSW flights are less than $150 round trip on Southwest, you gotta do it.

ILLhaveaBrewski on July 29, 2021 @ 05:22 PM

I love budget vacays like that!

Axllini on July 28, 2021 @ 11:02 AM

great piece - DIdn't Mo Virgil return kicks in the #20?

Duce20 on July 30, 2021 @ 09:24 AM

Mo wore 20 for sure, a kid from my HS wears my number for the beloved, that's something you never forget like his 49 yd TD run vs Arkansas St. However I don't recall Mo returning kicks. Mo lives in Indy now and runs a successful business and has a son that can flat out fly. Bret should be talking to him now and I'm not kidding. Kid is 10 I think.

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