Given that they are/were both Illinois Fighting Illini, wore the same jersey number, played the same position, and didn’t break out until their junior year (and when they broke out, they really did it in style) it’s inevitable to compare current Illini tailback Mikel Leshoure to current Pittsbrugh Steelers star running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Heck, I wrote a column about it in October.
And after Leshoure’s huge, record-setting game in the Texas Bowl, more people are making the analogy. Leshoure was even asked the question Wednesday night, in the post-game press conference. Both are local products. Leshoure is from Champaign (Centenniel h.s.) and Mendenhall is from suburban Skokie (Niles West h.s.).
By Paul M. Banks
“It would definitely be a compliment. To start things off, the accomplishments that he’s had and the success he’s having now. He was a great back and he’s continued to get better. Hopefully I can do the same thing and follow in his footsteps to make my name known in the NFL,” he said.
So then the million dollar question is, will he follow Mendenhall’s lead and leave early for the NFL after his breakout junior season?
“I haven’t got to that yet or decided what I’m going to do,” he answered. Meaning we won’t know for awhile yet.
Leshoure finished the 2010 season with a bang, recording 184 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards for a total of 205 all-purpose yards. In Illinois’ last five games, he racked up 1,011 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns. He finishes second on Illinois’ single-season all-purpose yardage record list with 1,893 yards, behind only Mendenhall’s 1,999 yards in 2007. Leshoure’s 29 carries also give him 281 carries this season, second-most in school history behind Robert Holcombe’s 294 rushes in 1997.
He also broke the single season rushing record, the points scored in a season record and became the first Illini to ever score 20 TDs in one campaign.
Head Coach Ron Zook talked about Leshoure’s special night, and special career.
“I’ve been through a lot with Mikel. His mother has done a great job raising him. I love seeing him like this because I know what it does to her and how happy it makes her. To see him grow up to be a great football player, but also a great person, that’s why you’re in this business. You get to see men reach their goals. That’s what we’re doing,” Zook said.
Leshoure gave a lot of the credit for his accomplishments to his fullback Jay Prosch.
“I’ve been waiting for that question. FB Jay (Prosch), aka Killer, he is incredible. A true freshman. The coaches get after him at practice and they stay on his case. He’s like me. He holds his composure and he does his job. He knows what he’s in the offense for and he knows what he’s in there to do. He’s there to pound some guys and make holes for me and the other running backs. He accepts that. He’s not selfish doesn’t complain about his job. He’s a great kid and has a great future. This is just a little showcase of what you’re going to see in the future,” Leshoure said.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
He also does a regular weekly segment on chicagolandsportsradio.com
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