Irish citizen McCourt: ‘Pretty surreal’ UI playing in Ireland

CHAMPAIGN — James McCourt doesn’t sound like an Irish citizen. He gradually lost his Irish accent after he moved to Florida when he was eight years old.

So some on the Illinois football team — head coach Lovie Smith on Monday admitted he was one of them — may not have known that the Illinois junior kicker was born and partially raised in Ireland or that he is not yet a U.S. citizen.

But when Illinois coaches and players learned on Monday morning during a team meeting that the Illini would play Nebraska in Dublin to kick off the 2021 season, it hit home for McCourt.

“Ireland means so much to me,” McCourt said. “It’s near and dear to my heart. Dublin is where I grew up. I have a lot of friends still there. I’m very close with my family back there. I pride myself in my Irish heritage and my Irish culture. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to my family in general.”

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