By Paul M. Banks & Paul Schmidt of The Sports Bank and Joe Kutsunis of Hail to the Orange, “Home of the Blogging Illini”
For the 1st team defense and second teams click here
First team Offense
QB Kurt Kittner – Though he only played two seasons this decade, Kittner deserves the nod here. He led the team to the Sugar Bowl and a Big Ten Championship in 2001, and did it without the benefit of a great running back corps (undersized Rocky Harvey and bulky Antoineo Harris the main contributors). With the passing game being the main focus of the offense, Kittner was still able to dissect opposing defenses. Still, it was a close finish between him, Juice Williams and surprisingly Jon Beutjer (whose career stats are surprisingly impressive – like second all-time in Illini history for passing efficiency). Kittner’s overall winning record as a starter pushes him over the top.
RB Rashard Mendenhall – Statistically, he doesn’t match up, finishing seventh all-time on the Illini rushing list, behind Antoineo Harris (2nd), Rocky Harvey (5th) and Pierre Thomas (6th), all prominent Illini runners this decade. In the end, only one number really matters: 1,681. That’s his rushing total from the Champaign Campaign season of 2007. The highest single-season in Illinois history by 350 yards. Another number from that season? 17 – the number of touchdowns that ‘Shard rushed for that season; also the best. Quite simply, it was the best season by a running back in Illinois history, and the Illini don’t make the Rose Bowl or win more than 5 games without him, the Silver Football winner (Big Ten MVP) from that year.
FB Carey Davis – Fullbacks in the early part of the decade held a special place in the heart of many Illini fans, and perhaps more importantly, in the heart of Ron Turner. Carey Davis was easily one of the best fullbacks (statistically) in Illini history. Over 1,000 career rushing yards, 114 receptions and 750 receiving yards land him the first spot. Also, it should be mentioned that any time not spent catching trademarked Ron Turner swing passes was spent lead blocking for the number 2 rusher in Illinois history – Harris.
WR Brandon Lloyd – The best receiver of the decade, and would have been the career leader in receiving yards in Illini history (over the GREAT David Williams) had he not suffered a freak injury prior to the 2000 campaign (when, in running and trying to catch up to some teammates, he got his foot stuck between a curb and a parking block and broke his leg in two places). He is one of only two wide receivers in Illinois history to have more than one 1,000 yard season (again, Williams), and has two of the top-six receiving seasons in Illini history. He was a game-breaker despite his size and was the perfect deep threat for the Kittner-era Illini.
WR Walter Young – Sixth all-time in receptions, and is the reason that people in Champaign think that Eddie McGee can be a wide receiver. Young was a heralded quarterback coming out of Rich East High School (SICA!!!), showing great athleticism and ability in his game. Turner and his coaching staff immediately converted Young to WR, and proceeded to use him in creative ways throughout his career; sometimes as a decoy, but later as a legitimate receiving threat, amassing over 1,700 of his 2,300 receiving yards in his last two seasons. At 6-5, 220 pounds, he was a complete mismatch for most defensive backs, never more evident than in his Sugar Bowl performance against LSU, when he made six catches for 178 yards and two scores.
WR Arrelious Benn – How good is Rejus Benn? Even with a miserable 2009 season where he only had 429 yards and one touchdown, Benn moved up to fifth-all-time in receptions in Illinois history, and still ranks as the second or third wide receiver on most major draft boards. Statistically, he is one of the top WRs in Illinois history: Fourth all-time in all-purpose yards, sixth in receiving yards and he absolutely OWNED Penn State when the Illini played them (almost 13% of his career all-purpose yards came in three games against the Nittany Lions). Where Benn ends up among all-time Illini (or in the rankings of Illini who were underachieving enigmas) will depend on whether or not he comes back for his senior season.
For an interview where Benn discusses his chances of returning, click here
OFFENSIVE LINE Duke Preston, Jon Asamoah, Marques Sullivan, Tony Pashos and David Diehl
The offensive line was ridiculously hard to select. However, it seemed as though there would be one easy way to choose who belonged on the first team, and who belonged on the second team – Experience in the NFL. All of the players listed above were drafted and started on various NFL squads except for Asamoah – and that is only because he won’t be drafted until NEXT decade; Asamoah still projects out as the top guard in the draft headed into the combines, and was a second-team All-American.
For an exclusive interview profile of Asamoah click here
As for the rest of the linemen, Preston has played 59 games in the NFL, and started 20; Sullivan (already retired) was a four-year starter, a first-team Playboy All-American, a third-team FWAA All-American, and two-year starter for the Buffalo Bills in ’02-’03. He is also a member of this site’s Facebook group, and reads this site regularly, so that’s yet another reason he had to be choosen.
Pashos was First Team All-Big Ten ’01 & ’02, and has started 54 games in the NFL at RT, appearing in 69 (currently on injured reserve with the 49ers). Diehl has had the most successful career of any lineman, winning a Super Bowl with the Giants in 2008, starting almost every game since his rookie year in 2003. Diehl also recently signed a 6 year, 31 million dollar contract extension, just in case anyone is looking to borrow some money from someone. Hey, he did give the University that sweet new weight room.
PK Jason Reda – One of the strongest and most accurate legs coming out of college, but somehow never parlayed that into a professional career. Still, Reda’s the easy choice – He is, after all, the all-time leading scorer in Illinois history. Let’s say that again one more time for you: No player in Illinois history has ever scored more points than Reda. Throw in two of the most accurate kicking seasons in Illinois history (the second and sixth), and the fact he was the most accurate kicker with at least 50 attempts, and Reda on the first team was like complaining and whining in an Avril Lavigne song; an absolute certainty.