Prospect grad Palczewski sees his senior season at Illinios get cancelled
During the lockdown in the spring, Alex Palczewski woke up early each morning and headed straight to the kitchen.
He was determined to have a big breakfast made in time for when his mother, Bozena, got home from work.
"She is an ICU nurse in Chicago and she works the night shift," Palczewski said. "She would be getting home as I would be waking up. She is my inspiration."
Palczewski has long admired both his mother and father Andy, a carpenter, for risking everything when they immigrated to the United States from Poland in their 20s. Neither of them knew anyone here, not even each other. Nor did either of them know any English.
"They each came with a suitcase. That's about it," Palczewski said. "They have done so much to give me and my two brothers so many opportunities here."
One of those opportunities for Palczewski was the chance to play football, which he did at Prospect under the watchful eye of offensive line coach Tim Beishir. Coach Beishir helped Palczewski earn a full scholarship to Illinois.
Palczewski, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive lineman who has started for the Illini since his true freshman year, was prepping for the start of his senior season when the Big Ten announced this week that the fall sports season was being canceled due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. A spring season for Big Ten football is a possibility, but, for now, Palczewski and his teammates are numb with disappointment and disbelief.
"It was tough getting that news, so tough," Palczewski said. "But in a way, I kind of saw this coming, just because of what I heard from my mom and what I saw her go through.
"She has been dealing with this directly in the ICU and when COVID was at its peak in the spring, I was really worried about her," Palczewski said. "When I would hear people say, 'This isn't real,' I would say, 'No, this is very real.' And I was always wondering how football would work. Right now, we're on campus staying to ourselves, but what was going to happen when you add 30,000 students to campus when school started. Then, if one of our guys got (COVID-19), then the entire team would be out. And you need all 14 teams in the conference to be able to play. So you can see how (the Big Ten came to this decision)."
Still, it's not an easy decision to accept. Especially for a senior.
Palczewski, who is already squarely on the radars of NFL agents and scouts, isn't sure what he'll do from here. He wants to play in the NFL, and would listen to scenarios for that in the spring.
But he also would like to get one more crack at a Big Ten title, especially after the magical ride that Illinois had as one of the hottest teams in the conference last season.
"This has been one of the best teams we've had here at Illinois in a long time, and we've got so many guys back," Palczewski said. "Beating Michigan State and Wisconsin last year was so great but we weren't satisfied with that and we wanted more this year.
"This isn't what we wanted, but all we can control is what we can control and so we'll keep going to work. A couple more months of lifting isn't going to hurt anyone."
But Palczewski thinks that being lax in public could.
"All I want to say to people is, 'Just wear a mask ... please,' " Palczewski said. "Since we've been at school working out, we've worn a mask 24/7, even when we're lifting. We have special masks on our helmets. We were doing amazing as a team, but it takes everyone everywhere to do the right thing. Don't be selfish. This isn't just about taking care of yourself, it's also about taking care of those around you."