Nicole Anderson doesn't have to strap on a helmet to play an integral part for the U. of I. football team.
As an office administrator for the program and assistant to the head coach, she knows the team wouldn't go very far without her.
"I'm not out on the field for practice every day, but I do feel a part of the team," she said. "Coach (Tim) Beckman is very family-oriented and we're a family. We're all one. I do feel like I'm a part of that family."
Anderson makes hotel and travel arrangements whether it's football season or not, with the coaches traveling far and wide to recruit players. There also are spring practices and football camps that coaches conduct, and with 112 players and some 25 support staff, there really is no such thing as an "off" season.
She said the recruiting season might be more difficult than the regular season, considering coaches' schedules can turn on a dime based on a recruit's schedule - and she must respond quickly.
"The coaches' schedules could change multiple times a day," she said. "I try to keep up and cover everything so they don't have to worry about it."
She said she has been amazed at the number of details that have to be completed before the players even hit the field.
"The outside world doesn't realize how much it takes to run a program like this," she said.
Anderson, who always has been sports-minded, played two years on the Parkland College basketball team while earning her associate degree. She said it's been amazing watching the level of commitment the coaches and student athletes have in competing at this high level.
"Everything is scheduled, even practices, down to the minute," she said. "I don't think people realize all that it takes to be a Division I student athlete. They are really committed, on and off the field, and a great group of kids to be around."
Anderson started working full-time at the U. of I. in 1996 in the campus mail department.
In 2007, she heard from a friend about an opening in the football office.
Following a rigorous interview process, she became an assistant to the director of football operations, a receptionist position. By 2008 she was the new administrative assistant to the head coach, which involved more-challenging duties and a greater level of job satisfaction.
"I'm a sports fanatic, so I knew this would be right up my alley," she said. "I think I fit in pretty well, but it really is a whole other world from the inside."
Anderson takes losses hard, but like the coaches and players around her, regroups and keeps moving forward regardless of the weekly outcome. She said she is inspired by how positive the coaches are, no matter the level of adversity.
"For them, it's done and over with on Monday - it's the beginning of a whole new week," she said. "For me, I don't like listening to people complaining, and there are times when I won't even read the paper."
She attends all of the home games and travels to away games that aren't too long of a drive.
As for recreational pursuits, Anderson likes the outdoors. She is an avid deer hunter and her weapon of choice is a bow and arrow, mostly because shotgun season falls during football season. She also plays golf to relax and volunteers with the American Cancer Society.