Here are the players, coaches in Super Bowl 55 with Illinois connections

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate catches an 8-yard touchdown pass against the Packers during the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. Brate played football, basketball and baseball at Naperville Central, graduating in 2009.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate catches an 8-yard touchdown pass against the Packers during the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. Brate played football, basketball and baseball at Naperville Central, graduating in 2009. Associated Press

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@shawmedia.com
Updated 1/31/2021 6:06 PM

Between more than 100 players and numerous coaches on both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, there were bound to be Illinois connections to Super Bowl LV. Five players from Illinois are likely to see the field on Feb. 7, and a few more with Illinois connections could.

Coaches move around a lot, and a number of coaches and staff members on both teams are either from Illinois, coached at an Illinois college or played or coached for the Bears.

 

There's probably even more Illinois connections out there. But here's a long list of them:

The players

Nick Allegretti, Chiefs, OL, No. 73

The 24-year-old from Frankfort has started every game since Week 7 (not counting Week 17, when the Chiefs rested their starters) for the defending Super Bowl champions. A seventh-round draft pick in 2019, Allegretti earned a Super Bowl ring last season while playing limited snaps, mostly on special teams.

In 2020, Allegretti earned his first career start in October after tackle Mitchell Schwartz injured his back. Allegretti has been a fixture of the starting offensive line since, playing mostly at left guard.

Allegretti is a Lincoln-Way East graduate and a former captain at Illinois. With Allegretti at center during his junior season in 2012, the Griffins finished as the IHSA Class 7A state runner-up. He is a former state medalist at the IHSA Class 3A state wrestling tournament with a third-place finish in 2014. During Sunday's AFC Championship Game, he impressed broadcaster Tony Romo enough to earn a shoutout on the CBS telecast.

Cameron Brate, Buccaneers, TE, No. 84

A seventh-year NFL veteran, Brate played football, basketball and baseball at Naperville Central, graduating in 2009. He played tight end at Harvard and earned an economics degree. Brate signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2014 with the Bucs. Other than a brief stint on New Orleans' practice squad in 2015, Brate has been with the Bucs his entire career.

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Brate has played in every game this season for the Bucs, catching 28 passes for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns during the regular season. He caught a touchdown pass in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

Scotty Miller, Buccaneers, WR, No. 10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scott Miller celebrates after catching a 39-yard touchdown pass against the Packers on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay, Wis. The Barrington native was a state finalist in numerous sprint events at the IHSA Class 3A track and field state meet.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scott Miller celebrates after catching a 39-yard touchdown pass against the Packers on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay, Wis. The Barrington native was a state finalist in numerous sprint events at the IHSA Class 3A track and field state meet. - Associated Press

Like Allegretti, Barrington native Scotty Miller was a late-round draft pick in 2019, going in the sixth round to the Bucs following his college career at Bowling Green. Also like Allegretti, Miller's playing time has increased in his second NFL season. He finished the regular season fourth on the team in receiving yards, and third among receivers. Playing in all 16 games, he caught 33 passes for 501 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Miller, a 23-year-old Barrington High School grad, caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. His touchdown came on a heave toward the end zone in the finals seconds of the first half and proved to be one of the biggest plays of the game.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At Barrington, Miller was a state finalist in numerous sprint events at the IHSA Class 3A track and field state meet.

Ben Niemann, Chiefs, LB, No. 56

Sycamore grad Ben Niemann is in his third season with the Chiefs. The 25-year-old former Iowa linebacker signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Niemann played in 15 games this season and saw the field in both Chiefs playoff games. He sees a high volume of special teams snaps and typically pitches in on defense in a more limited role. Niemann played 19 snaps on special teams in the Super Bowl last year.

The former Sycamore football captain also played for the basketball team in high school. His father Jay Niemann is the assistant defensive line coach and defensive recruiting coordinator at Iowa, while his brother Nick Niemann just completed his senior season as a linebacker for the Hawkeyes.

Pat O'Connor, Buccaneers, DL, No. 79

Another former seventh-round draft pick, Chicago native Pat O'Connor was one of the last players drafted in 2017 when the Detroit Lions selected him 250th overall. A St. Rita grad, O'Connor entered the NFL by way of Eastern Michigan. The Lions waived O'Connor in September of 2017 and the Bucs picked him up on a practice squad deal a month later. O'Connor spent his first three NFL seasons up and down between the active roster and the practice squad, but has found a home on special teams with the Bucs this season.

O'Connor, 27, doesn't see much action on a loaded Buccaneers defensive line (although he does have one sack this season), but he has played in all 16 games and typically plays the majority of the special teams snaps.

Khalen Saunders, Chiefs, DT, No. 99

The 24-year-old Saunders didn't grow up in Illinois, rather he grew up across the border in the St. Louis area, but he played his college ball at Western Illinois. It seems as if Saunders, who is on the active roster, will most likely be designated as inactive. He has seen limited game action this season after injuring his elbow in Week 1. Although he returned to the field in Week 7, Saunders has been a healthy scratch nearly every week since.

A third-round draft pick in 2019, Saunders became the first Leatherneck drafted in a decade. He caught national attention during the pre-draft process when he, at 320 pounds, executed a perfect back flip.

Additional players

One active roster player in Super Bowl LV previously played for the Bears: Bucs offensive lineman Ted Larsen (in 2016 and 2019). Larsen has played in only two games this season. Bucs practice squad receiver Cyril Grayson spent parts of 2018 and 2019 with the Bears. Bucs running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn played two years at Illinois in 2015 and 2016 before transferring to Vanderbilt.

For the Chiefs, practice squad offensive linemen Patrick Omameh and Bryan Witzmann both spent time with the Bears (Omameh in 2015, Witzmann in 2018). The practice squad players are unlikely to dress for their teams.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs drills with coach Mike Kafka during practice on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Davie, Fla. Kafka went to St. Rita in Chicago and went on to play QB and later become a graduate assistant at Northwestern University.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs drills with coach Mike Kafka during practice on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Davie, Fla. Kafka went to St. Rita in Chicago and went on to play QB and later become a graduate assistant at Northwestern University. - Associated Press
The Coaches

Mike Kafka, Chiefs, quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator

Like Bucs defensive lineman Pat O'Connor, Kafka went to St. Rita in Chicago. He was a standout quarterback for the Mustangs. He went on to play quarterback at Northwestern. He started all 13 games for the Wildcats as a senior in 2009. After college, Kafka bounced around the NFL for six seasons. He played in four games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.

Kafka returned to Northwestern as a graduate assistant in 2016 before taking a job with the Chiefs in 2017 as offensive quality control coach. He became quarterbacks coach in 2018 and has tutored MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes since.

Antwaan Randle El, Buccaneers, offensive assistant coach

A Super Bowl hero in his own right, Randle El graduated from Thornton in 1997. The Cubs selected him in the 14th round of the 1997 MLB draft, but Randle El elected to attend Indiana on a football scholarship.

In one of the most memorable trick plays in Super Bowl history, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El throws a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward on Feb. 5, 2006, in Detroit. The Cubs selected Randle El, now the Bucs offensive assistant coach, in the 14th round of the 1997 MLB draft, but he decided to attend Indiana on a football scholarship.
In one of the most memorable trick plays in Super Bowl history, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El throws a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward on Feb. 5, 2006, in Detroit. The Cubs selected Randle El, now the Bucs offensive assistant coach, in the 14th round of the 1997 MLB draft, but he decided to attend Indiana on a football scholarship. - AP File Photo

Randle El, of course, is best known for throwing a touchdown pass to Hines Ward on a trick play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 Super Bowl. In 2019, the NFL named it one of the top 100 trick plays in NFL history.

Randle El joined the Buccaneers coaching staff in 2019.

Dave Toub, Chiefs, special teams coordinator

Toub was born in New York, but he served as the Bears' special teams coordinator under Lovie Smith from 2004 to 2012. Under his guidance, Robbie Gould became a Pro Bowl kicker and Devin Hester emerged as one of the best return specialists ever. Toub has been in Kansas City since 2013. His son Shane Toub is a defensive quality control coach for the Bears.

Greg Lewis, Chiefs, wide receivers coach

Lewis went to Rich South. He played college ball at Illinois, appearing in 44 games and finishing his career with 103 catches for 1,456 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a pro, he spent six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles in the mid-2000s, including their run to the 2004 Super Bowl. Lewis began his coaching career in 2012 and has been the Chiefs' receivers coach since 2017.

Additional coaches and staff members

The list of coaches with Illinois connections is long. Starting with the Chiefs, run game coordinator/defensive line coach Brendan Daly went to Sacred Heart-Griffin in Springfield and later coached tight ends at Illinois State for one season in 2004. Chiefs statistical analysis coordinator Mike Frazier lists his hometown as Evanston. Sports science/conditioning assistant Ryan Reynolds is from Fulton, Illinois. Offensive line coach Andy Heck started on the Bears' offensive line from 1994 to 1998. Running backs coach Deland McCullough played for the original XFL's Chicago Enforcers in 2001.

On the Buccaneers' staff, assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin previously served as the Bears' assistant offensive line coach from 2004 to 2006. Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong served in the same role for the Bears from 1997 to 2000. Inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell played one season with the Bears in 2002. Bucs offensive line coach Joe Gilbert coached the offensive line at Illinois from 2009 to 2011. Offensive quality control coach John Van Dam served as offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois in 2016 and 2017.

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