Asmussen | Big Ten football is in the Karras blood

Who you got for First Family of Big Ten Football?
For my money, the answer is easy: the Karras family.
In three generations, seven represented five different Big Ten schools: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue.
Three Karras family members — Ted III, Ted Jr. and Tony — appeared on Friday’s edition of “Penny For Your Thoughts” on WDWS.
The hour-long segment hosted by Voice of the Illini Brian Barnhart, included News-Gazette legend Loren Tate. It was put together with the help of Champaign’s Jimmy Bean, a friend of the football family.
The Karrases understand they are known as a football family, but don’t dwell on it. Or brag about it.
“We had a sense of it, but it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal,” Ted Jr. said. “Football, you’ve got to prove yourself whatever your last name is.”
Most of them were prep stars. There was an exception.
“Everyone else was really highly recruited,” Ted Jr. said. “I’m the guy that had to have telegrams sent out back in the day to get recruited. Thankfully, Dennis Green gave me a shot.”
Of course, they mentioned the late Alex Karras, Ted III’s great uncle, who starred with the Detroit Lions before moving on to Hollywood.
Alex Karras played iconic character Mongo, famous for knocking out a horse in the Mel Brooks’ hit “Blazing Saddles.”
Alex is a member of both the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fame
Ted Karras Sr., Ted III’s grandfather, played at Indiana and for George Halas with the Chicago Bears. Ted Sr. spent nine years in the NFL with the Bears, Steelers, Lions and Rams. He won a title with the Bears.
“Just a great father figure,” Ted Jr. said. “Some of the great joys I had later in life with him was the opportunity to coach with him. Just a wealth of knowledge in football and a great man.”
What were Ted Sr.’s thoughts on Halas?
“He said, ‘He threw nickels around like they were manhole covers,’” Ted Jr. said.
Ted Jr. played for Super Bowl winner Washington after spending his college years at Northwestern. Ted Jr. is currently coaching at Marian University, an NAIA school in Indianapolis. He started in the program in 2006.
Lou Karras, brother of Alex and Ted Karras Sr., played at Purdue and later with Washington in the NFL.
Tony Karras, Ted Karras Jr.’s brother, played at Northwestern. Another Karras, Paul, also played at Iowa.
“I was at Northwestern when uncle Alex was doing ‘Webster’ so that was really cool,” Tony said.
There might be another Karras on the way to the Big Ten. Tony’s son Luke is a running back and linebacker at Casey-Westfield. Somehow, he is not a lineman like the rest of the bunch.
“He’s probably the fastest one of all of us,” said Tony, who is coaching at the high school.
Adding to the legacyTed III is entering his eighth season in the NFL. He played five years with the New England Patriots in two stints. He was part of the 2017 Super Bowl champions.
He also had a stop with the Miami Dolphins.
Ted III signed with the Cincinnati Bengals before the 2022 season and is the team’s starting center. Led by quarterback Joe Burrow, Cincinnati is considered a strong contender to win the AFC.
Ted III’s NFL experience in terms of wins is different than his time at Illinois. He was part of two bowl teams and only one winning season.
“My tenure at Illinois was pretty tenuous,” Ted III said. “I came in under (Ron) Zook and we had (Tim) Beckman and Bill Cubit. We didn’t win as much as I would like. But we had a lot of the guys in the league. We always recruited pretty well and never could put it together on the field.”
Ted III is about to start training camp in Cincinnati. Quarterbacks and rookies report Saturday and the rest start Tuesday.
Ted III, a standout offensive linemen for Illinois from 2011-15, is being joined this season by another former Illini. Running back Chase Brown, a fifth-round pick, is a rookie with the Bengals.
“I foresee him being a contributor to our offense this year,” Ted III said.
During his time in New England, Ted III worked with NFL G.O.A.T. Tom Brady. What was that like?
“He led us to glory several times,” Ted III said. “He’s a very demanding QB. He taught me the center position. What better teacher than Tommy B.?”
Helping hands
Though his family history is filled with football players, Ted III said he never felt pushed into the sport. Ted. Jr. was more about fitness.
“Starting from a young age, doing push-ups, situps and jump rope, that was our daily routine,” Ted III said. “He set such a great example. We had a love for the game together.”
The Karras name didn’t help Ted III with scholarship offers. Illinois and Indiana were the only two from the Big Ten.
“I visited Champaign and committed on the spot,” Ted III said. “Zook did a great job pitching it. I wanted to forge my own path. I didn’t want to go to Indiana because all my friends were going there. I wanted to try something new. I had a fantastic time in Champaign. Left with two degrees.”
Ted III likes what he sees in the current team, now coached by former Wisconsin boss Bret Bielema.
“I actually got to spend two seasons with Bret in New England,” Ted III said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a great coach. He’s had a great Big Ten record.
“I’m really excited. He’s really upped the recruiting. He’s really upped the style of play that Illinois does need to play and that’s physical. Those are Bret’s teams. The facility (Smith Center) doesn’t hurt.”
Giving back
For years, before joining the NFL, Ted III has been raising money for Village of Merici. It is an Indianapolis residential community for adults with developmental disabilities.
Ted III sells hats with “Cincy” in the Bengals colors. All of the proceeds go to Village of Merici.
He has raised more than $750,000, which has allowed the Village to triple its number of residents.

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