NORMAL — Illinois State football coach Brock Spack realizes he has become redundant.
Yet when Spack is asked about Colton Underwood, the same admirable characteristics spring to mind every time.
“He’s had a huge impact,” Spack said. “I’ve said this over and over again, but he’s the poster child for what a college athlete should be.”
Spack hates the thought of bidding farewell to Underwood. But one of the best defensive linemen in Redbird history will play his final college game Saturday when ISU closes the season against Southern Illinois in a 2 p.m. game at Saluki Stadium.
“It lets me reflect on my time here,” Underwood said Tuesday of his final week as a Redbird. “I couldn’t be happier with my decision and the people I got to spend time with my four years here. It’s been something really special.”
Too talented to sit as a true freshman in 2010, Underwood finished sixth in Buck Buchanan Award voting for the top defensive player in FCS in 2012 as ISU advanced to the playoff quarterfinals.
Again a Buchanan Award contender as a senior, Underwood has 58 tackles while providing needed stability during a roller coaster season.
“We started out with a lot of adversity, losing some guys with injuries and losing some games we didn’t expect to lose,” said Underwood. “I’m proud of this team the way we responded. We didn’t pack it up and quit. We fought.”
After a 1-3 start, ISU has scrambled back to 5-5 and could secure the program’s fifth straight winning season Saturday. That hasn’t happened in more than 60 years.
“He has always been tough and physical,” Spack said of Underwood. “He’s worked extremely hard at his weaknesses. He’s made himself into one heck of a football player.”
The son of former Redbird defensive end Scott Underwood and ex-ISU volleyball player Donna (Zajeski) Underwood, Colton does not regret turning down a late recruiting push from Wisconsin to honor his commitment to play for Spack.
“Talking with my dad, that’s something that doesn’t happen a lot with the family legacy,” he said.
Spack believes the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Underwood’s legacy eventually will include a professional career.
“He’s very versatile. There is all kinds of film on him doing a lot of different things. That will help the NFL people with their evaluations,” said Spack, who uses Underwood as both an end and a tackle. “The most important thing is he’s productive. He’s such a competitor and has such a great motor. That will bode well for him come draft time.”
Prate tears ACL: Defensive tackle Bradon Prate tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last Saturday against North Dakota State. He will require surgery and likely miss ISU’s spring practice sessions but should be fine for fall camp in 2014.
“We have to get him right,” Spack said. “He will be an important part of our defense next year.”