Illini DE Whitney Mercilus: Best at his Position in the Nation

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University of Illinois junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus was named yesterday to the Associated Press All-America first team. That means he’s truly “everybody’s All-American” and he’s been named to 10 different All-America teams. Nine of which were first-team.

He also took home the Hendricks Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive end.

“There’s a lot of great players out there, and I just happened to beat them out. It’s a blessing,” Mercilus said during halftime of a recent Illini basketball game.

Mercilus becomes the first first-team AP All-American from Illinois since offensive lineman Martin O’Donnell in 2007 and is the first Illini defensive player to earn first-team AP laurels since linebacker Kevin Hardy in 1995. Mercilus leads the nation in sacks (14.5), sacks per game (1.21) and forced fumbles (9) in 2011. He also is tied for fifth in the nation and leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 19.5.

 

Mercilus was pretty upset when Ron Zook was fired. He took the dismissal quite hard.

“Really, I didn’t want to talk to anybody, he was the head coach that recruited me and I’ve known him for some time, basically my whole life and he’s a great guy- fights for his players all day. There’s no other guy like him, last week I was down in the dumps and didn’t want to do any interviews, but now spirits and morale is back up,” he said after he was honored at halftime of the Illini vs. St. Bonaventure college basketball game.

“It’s like breaking up with your girlfriend, there’s a little heartbreak, but you got to bounce back,” the Illini team MVP said of the Zook situation.

The next chance to bounce back is the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on New Year’s Eve versus UCLA. Merclius will need two sacks to break Simeon Rice’s single-season school record of 16 and two forced fumbles to break the singe-season NCAA record of 10.

Naturally, I had to ask him about the big decision that lies ahead of him. He’s projected to be a first round pick in the NFL draft.

“I really can’t say right now, it’s up in the air. Lots of crazy things going on right now, it’s a little chaotic. Right now I’m just focusing on the bowl game and helping my teammates out,” he responded.

It’s to be expected that he didn’t give a definitive answer- you knew I’d do a post on this asap if he said which way he was going.

Full 2011 AP All-America Teams:

Mercilus Postseason Honors in 2011 (as of Dec. 14)

• Ted Hendricks National Defensive End of the Year Award winner

• Bill Willis Defensive Lineman of the Year Award winner

• First-Team All-American (AP, FWAA, Walter Camp, AFCA, CBSSports.com, ESPN.com, Phil Steele, SI.com, Yahoo.com)

• Honorable Mention All-American (Pro Football Weekly)

• Bronko Nagurski Trophy Finalist

• Bednarik Award and Rotary Lombardi Award Semifinalist

• First-Team All-Big Ten (Coaches and Media)

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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