CHICAGO — Attendance was sparse Friday night at chilly Gately Stadium on Chicago’s far south side.

But Illini football coach Tim Beckman proclaimed the intrasquad scrimmage a success and vowed to return each year to the Chicago area, pledging that exposure in the Windy City is crucial to the program’s success.

That’s why earlier on Friday Athletics Director Mike Thomas hosted a press conference to call attention to the school’s football game against Washington on Sept. 14 at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

About 200 people were on hand for the scrimmage, which was held at a Chicago stadium that hosts many high school games, including some for Chicago Mount Carmel. Frank Lenti, Sr., the legendary Mount Carmel coach, was on hand for the scrimmage, as were two Mount Carmel players Illinois is recruiting, defensive tackle Enoch Smith, Jr. and running back Matt Domer.

Nathan Scheelhaase quarterbacked the first-team offense with Reilly O’Toole leading the second team. They took snaps from under center and from the shotgun as they work to install the offense of new coordinator Bill Cubit.

Donovonn Young broke off the longest touchdown run of the scrimmage, a 15-yard blast.

Several Illini football alums looked on, including former quarterback Juice Williams and current Chicago Bears cornerback Kelvin Hayden.

This was the ninth of 15 spring practices that lead to the annual spring game, which this year will be played at 8 p.m., Friday, April 12 at Memorial Stadium.

As for the Illinois-Washington game at Soldier Field, Thomas said the university will hold a special “Chicago Homecoming” event for area alums on the day of the game. Tickets are on sale now for $80, $50 and $30.

“We’ll bring as much tradition and Illini game-day atmosphere as possible to the Windy City as we celebrate a Chicago Homecoming,” Thomas said. “I have no doubts this will be a very memorable day.”

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