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B.J. Ogata

B.J. Ogata

Former Illini tight end | 2000 Academic All-Big Ten pick | Class of 2001

Who says jocks can’t cut it in the classroom?

Not B.J. Ogata’s favorite geography professor, the former Illini tight end (BA ’01, history) was pleased to learn while balancing sports and schoolwork.

“As a student-athlete, there were a lot of people I could mention” as most influential Illini, says Ogata, now a high school social studies teacher and head track coach in Staunton.

“Several football coaches, but especially Greg McMahon, made a large impact on my time there. Dr. David Zola was the first professor to go out of his way to make a personal connection to me, but several others were very influential.

“If I had to pick one person that made the biggest difference, it would probably be Professor Thorn. I worked quite closely with him in a class and an independent study. I still use his material when I teach my own classes.

“He was a true mentor in fostering my curiosity of other cultures while not buying into stereotypes about the kind of student a football player could be.”

As far as a favorite spot on campus, it’s a two-way tie for first on Ogata’s list.

“There are so many places on campus that hold great memories — some of which, sadly, are no longer there — but the two that stick out the most are Memorial Stadium and Foellinger Auditorium.

“As a football player, the stadium was home, and I still love being back for games. I’m excited to see the upgrades without losing the timeless character of the structure.

“On the academic side, Foellinger is where I had my first class on campus, and where I graduated. There were, of course, numerous classes, concerts and events in between.

“Seeing this iconic building at the head of the Quad still strikes me when I return to campus.”