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When Illinois’ Ryan Lankford went down, parents raised their game

llinois wide receiver Ryan Lankford (12) runs touchdown during first half an NCAA football game against Cincinnati Saturday Sept. 7

llinois wide receiver Ryan Lankford (12) runs in a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA football game against Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

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Updated: October 29, 2013 10:18PM



Nathan Creer, the 51-year-old father of Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, won’t be on hand for the last two home games of his son’s career. On Saturday, he was arrested after a fight in the stands during the Illini’s 42-3 loss to Michigan State. On Tuesday, it was learned Creer has been banned from campus for one year, in accordance with university police policy.

A lovely little story, isn’t it?

So here’s what we’re going to do about it. We’re going to tell you another lovely little story. This one’s also about an Illini football dad. And a mom. And their son, senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford. And that same darned Michigan State game.

You might’ve heard that Lankford broke a bone in his left shoulder, an injury that ended his Illinois career. Wanda and Paul Lankford won’t ever see their son play another game unless his NFL dreams come true.

But the three of them never could have a moment at a football stadium more meaningful than the one they shared Saturday.

After trainers had finished tending to Lankford in the locker room and retaken the field, Lankford was alone with his thoughts, the shock wearing off, mind racing, tears coming.

‘‘I felt low,’’ he told the Sun-Times on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to have surgery. ‘‘I felt like my life was over.’’

That’s when he heard his name.

‘‘Ryan?’’

Someone was looking for him. It was Mom. Lankford got up and walked toward her voice. They found each other. She held him gently as the tears poured from both of them.

Soon Dad was beside them. Paul Lankford, who played in two Super Bowls as a cornerback with the Miami Dolphins, discovered the sting of his son’s injury was harder to deal with than any he’d suffered in 10 NFL seasons.

‘‘It was very difficult knowing what happened and the way Ryan’s Illinois career ended, and on homecoming, no less,’’ he said. ‘‘Just so unfortunate and so abrupt.’’

The Lankfords have attended nearly every home game for four years, making a routine of the drive from Jacksonville. No, not the one in Illinois. Try the one in Florida.

‘‘It’s a beautiful thing,’’ Ryan Lankford said. ‘‘I have great parents.’’

They were there when their son needed them most. Lankford’s dad told him the injury would make him stronger. His mom assured him a blessing would come from it.

‘‘They really comforted me and helped me feel better,’’ Lankford said. ‘‘Everything’s going to be OK.’’

Yep. Lovely.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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