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Students, alumni gear up for big Redbird playoff game

Fans cheer at Hancock

Chris Roehl, center, and other Illinois State fans cheer on the Redbirds during Homecoming 2014 at Hancock Stadium.

Saturday is a big day for senior Chris Roehl, and not just because he’s graduating.

The Orland Park native is a die-hard Redbird football fan—literally the poster boy for the Red Alert student section—and his team is visiting Eastern Washington for a 3 p.m. FCS quarterfinal playoff matchup.

Roehl was at Hancock Stadium last weekend, cheering like crazy, when the No. 5 Redbirds beat Northern Iowa in the second round. Seeing ISU achieve its first 10-win regular season in history was “incredible,” he says.

“The pride I have as an ISU student is just beyond me,” Roehl told STATEside. “Our team just jelled this year. They’re working together to make this a great program. And (by winning) we’re planting the seeds for the next recruiting class, setting the stage to make us one of the top FCS programs in the nation.”

Roehl isn’t the only Redbird who will have his eyes glued to the game Saturday. While the game will be played 1,700 miles away in Cheney, Washington, there are several Redbird “watch parties” planned in Bloomington-Normal, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, and Dallas.

Fans are encouraged to send photos from the watch parties to @ISURedbirds via Twitter, with an opportunity to win prizes for those who show the most Redbird spirit. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.

Alyssa Donovan poses

ISU alumna Alyssa Donovan (‏@alyssaKXLY) posted this on Twitter: “I may be the only @IllinoisStateU alum in Spokane but I’ll still cheer on my Redbirds against the Eags on Saturday!”

Roehl graduates with a degree in sociology at 9 a.m. Saturday. At 3 p.m., the lifelong college football fan will be watching the game at a watch party hosted by a student organization. So while he won’t be in his usual seat behind the opposing team’s sideline—Section 123, Row 1, Seat 1—he’ll still be backing the ’Birds.

“One of the things I loved about ISU is that it’s got a big-school attitude with a small-school feel,” Roehl said. “The student section—I know them all, they’re my friends. That’s my family with me at the stadium.”

Eastern Washington’s Roos Field—known as “The Inferno” because of its bright red artificial turf—is about 26 hours away in the car. Athletics says several super-fans and parents will make the trip. Redbird players Alex Donnelly and Joe Farmer are both from the Seattle area and will have family at the game.

There are more than 1,000 Illinois State alumni who live in Washington State, according to ISU’s records. One of them is Alyssa Donovan ’12, who will be at the game. The broadcast journalism grad is now a weekend weather anchor, reporter, and fill-in anchor at KXLY in Spokane, about 30 minutes from Cheney.

Donovan’s colleagues have been pointing out her ISU connection on-air as they’ve previewed Saturday’s matchup. The Redbirds also played Eastern Washington in the FCS playoffs in 2012.

“It’s a cool thing that even though I’m out here, I can still support my school from so far away,” said Donovan, a TV-10 and WZND alum from Fox River Grove. “It sounds like it’s gonna be fun. It’s a strong rivalry.”

The FCS championship game will be played January 10 in Frisco, Texas.

“If the Redbirds make it, I’ll be there,” Roehl said.

Ryan Denham can be reached at