The Lives of Illinois’ Athletes

Freshman baseball player Jimmy Burnette has more balancing to do than the average Illinois student. Not only does he have to focus on academics, he also has to concentrate on performing at the highest collegiate level. 

Burnette hails from St. Laurence high school in Chicago. The lefty pitcher brings the heat on the mound, but can also rake when put in the batting lineup while playing outfield.

Jimmy Burnette, a Freshman on the mens baseball team. (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Burnette)

He credits coming in during the summer for workouts as a major key in learning how to handle being a student-athlete.

“It helped me out a lot coming in the summer and getting acclimated with the school, campus and the schedule,” Burnette said. “It was difficult balancing the workouts, practices, and getting work done earlier in the year, but as the semester went on, I’ve gotten better with it.”

Teammates and upperclassmen have also been there along the way to help Burnette and have given him tips on how to control his time management.

Out of millions of high school athletes, only 2 percent go on to compete at the next level. At the University of Illinois there are 11 women NCAA teams and 10 teams for men. That accumulates approximately 670 student-athletes here at Illinois out of a total of 44,000 students total.

Fletcher Scott, Freshman on the mens tennis team. (Photo by Andrea Cannon)

D-1 athletes are gifted with many options to help them succeed in the classroom. Each student-athlete at Illinois has full access to the Irwin Academics Center and is required to study ten hours each week. At this center, athletes are exposed to a range of study halls and free tutors that are there solely to help them.

Irwin was expanded back in 2007 with a 4.6 million dollar renovation with the idea of adding more space and technology.

Fletcher Scott, a freshman on the mens tennis team, admits that the free tutoring and free Nike gear are his favorite perks of being a student-athlete. A native of Kansas City, Scott talked about how stressful managing school, tennis, and social life has been this semester. But for him, being able to continue playing tennis at the collegiate level is something he would never trade.

Alongside the free gear and free tutoring, athletes on campus get the chance to bond with not only their teammates, but all other athletes at Illinois. Morgan O’Brien, a standout freshman on the volleyball team, said that although she could not envision herself in a sorority, hanging out with all the other athletes simulates a lot of the same concepts.

“Sports click with different sports,” O’Brien said.

Morgan O’Brien, Freshman on the womens volleyball team.
(Photo by Andrea Cannon)


Learning to balance sports, school and social life might be the biggest challenge for student-athletes at Illinois, but Burnette may have it all figured out.

“The key has been not to get overwhelmed with all that’s going on… Illinois offers so much to succeed athletically with the strength and conditioning staff, trainers, and coaches. They are some of the best in the country and are hard on us because they want us to succeed, and that’s a great feeling,” Burnette said.


Matt Rice

Matt Rice is a freshman from Carmi, IL studying Journalism at the University of Illinois. In the future, Matt hopes to pursue a specification in sports broadcast. Matt has worked previously at his hometown paper The Carmi Chronicle and is now a member of BTN Student U. Matt's had an intense passion for sports ever since he was a toddler and can still recall choosing SportsCenter over cartoons as a child. In his free-time Matt enjoys "hanging with the boys and playing hoops."