Hugh Robertson cherishing mother's visit from Australia: 'Having her here is amazing' – 247Sports

CHAMPAIGN — Judith Robertson waited outside of the gates of Grange Grove as the buses rolled up to drop off the members of the Illini football team and eagerly awaited her son to step off the bus.
One by one, the players filed off and Robertson stood in her orange No. 19 jersey waiting to see her son, 29-year-old punter Hugh Robertson. Judith had only seen the spectacle that is American football from afar. She found ways to stream games back home in Australia but had never had an up-close look at the new life Hugh had built for himself. Before the Iowa game last week, Judith got a look at the scene of college football.
Fans lined up outside of the stadium for the Illini Walk — the tradition of football players entering Memorial Stadium — and eventually filed into Memorial Stadium for the biggest crowd since 2016. When Hugh stepped off the bus, Judith couldn’t contain herself. All of the emotions flooded out of her as she began to cry.
Not only was she seeing Hugh in his element, the one he took a chance on two years ago after having a full career back home in Australia, but she was seeing how much people appreciated her son.
It was all overwhelming.
“He’s my baby,” Judith told Illini Inquirer. “I did get a bit emotional. I was mostly blown away of how famous he is now. I’ve always thought he was the best. I didn’t realize everyone else did.”
Judith planned this trip back in August. Opportunities to spend time with Hugh had been few and far between since he packed up his old life and moved to America to play college football. A global pandemic limited travel for more than a year. Though Hugh went home for Christmas last year, he had other family members to see and rounds to make in his first trip home since coming to Illinois prior to the 2020 season.
Though he went home last December, Judith still had never seen Hugh play an American football game in person. She couldn’t have picked a better game.
Illinois beat Iowa for the first time in 2008 and Hugh had his best game of the season to this point. Hugh had six punts for 249 yards (41.5 average) and landed four inside the 20-yard line, including twice at the Iowa 2-yard line.
Judith didn’t have a second to take in the crowd’s appreciation for her son because she was “cheering harder than everyone else” and lost her voice.
“It’s awesome. She’s loving it,” Hugh said. “… She’s just so proud of me. Mom’s been one of those people who always supported me since I was a kid to play sports. I don’t know where I’d be without her. She’s been really good support, sporting-wise. ..She’d be the nurse there. She did all the jobs. She’d be (the) canteen lady at the football games back home. She’s always been a big supporter of my sports. Having her here is amazing. For her to experience the culture in America and a football game, and everyone has been so good at welcoming her: all my friends, their families, and also the (coaching) staff and Coach B have been awesome, all the coaches for that matter.”
Like her son, Judith never seemed to have met a stranger. As Hugh puts it, “she can talk underwater.” She’s got a pulse on certain elements of American culture in ways Hugh doesn’t. Judith is a big fan of baking shows, certainly wouldn’t turn down a trip to Hobby Lobby or JOANN Fabrics and bought 18 pounds of fabric from “Quilting in the Valley,” a local store in Champaign on Thursday and intended to return on Friday. She’s been to the United States before, but not since Hugh arrived to play football. Judith used to chase tornadoes in the United States as a hobby.
Beyond any of that, Judith beams with pride when talking about her son. The reasoning to involve Hugh with sports as a child was simple: he needed an outlet for energy. No outlet for that energy probably would have been bad news. She was quite familiar with Hugh’s elementary school principal because “Hugh has done something.”
And yet here was Hugh, enjoying his element in the United States and being celebrated for being a Big Ten punter — and, just as important in the Iowa game, a holder on field goal attempts.
“It was just that pride in me for him for me to say to people, ‘Look, this is what he’s like now,’” Judith said.
When Hugh said he planned to pack up his life and move from Australia, where he was a police officer, to the United States, Judith signed off completely. If this was his dream, far be it for her to stand in his way. The two met in a small Australian country town before Hugh left for the United States. Judith cried all the way home.
“Got over it though,” she said matter-of-factly. “My vibrant life would say go for it and go do what you have to do. His father is a little bit more reserved than me, but even his father said, ‘If you want to do it, mate, you go and do it.’”

Hugh didn’t have to do much planning this week for his mother. He wanted to take her into the expansive Smith Center, meet the coaching staff, introduce his girlfriend and let Judith take in as much or as little as she wanted to in Champaign. The two toured campus together on Thursday, and Saturday is shaping up to be another good football game with a good afternoon atmosphere.
The Smith Center tour was its own experience. Those kinds of facilities, Hugh said, don’t exist in Australia. Judith had never met the coaching staff in person until this trip. She was impressed with head coach Bret Bielema through watching press conferences but still was eager to meet him in person.
“I went up and said, ‘I feel as if I need to give you a hug,’ to Bret,” Judith said. “He seems like such a nice person when I hear him talk and I know he’s been really nice to Hugh. I felt as if he was a nice person, and he is.”
Said Hugh: “She was just blown away. It was cool to show her around. It was hard to get her out of the building, to be honest, because she can talk underwater. Trying to get her away from all the coaches was the hardest part. They were all trying to get home and the only time they get with their families and they just want to get home and she’s going on and on. That’s probably where I get it from, isn’t it?”
Judith will watch No. 24 Illinois play Minnesota at 11 a.m. Saturday and spend the better part of next week in Champaign before flying out of Chicago on Friday. Hugh hopes, with the open week, that he can drive his mom to the airport and spend the day in Chicago before she returns to Australia.
The lasting memory of the trip will be Judith seeing her son walk off the bus for the first time and the spectacle that is college football. But the days spent with her son during the trip are just as important.
“That moment, him getting off the bus and just the pride I felt in him and the fact that he spent so much time with me this week,” Judith said when asked what will stick out the most about this trip. “…It’s been a lot of quality time together.”
Hugh got to show his mother the element of American football and the popularity it has in the United States. For good measure, she made some homemade food for him at the apartment to give him a taste of Australia.
At long last, Hugh was able to let his mother in on his new life, the one she encouraged him to live more than two years ago when he decided to move to the United States. Judith’s urging of Hugh to play sports some 20 years ago has turned into something she never would have expected and a source of great pride.
Hugh couldn’t be happier for his mom to see these moments.
“Spending three weeks with my mom and being able to do things every day and give her the experiences I’m able to have here makes me happy,” Hugh said. “It’s really good for our relationship after not being able to see each other for a few years to be able to spend this much time together. She’s going to be leaving proud, I hope, and I’ll be leaving (the airport) thankful she’s given me this opportunity. At the end of the day, she was the one who got me into sports when I was a kid.”

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