Illini Football All-Decade Team Announced: Part 1 Defense

The University of Illinois announced their All-Decade Team this week. We’ll start with the defense, and we’ll open with the defensive linemen: Will Davis, Corey Liuget, Brandon Moore, Chris Norwell and Derrick Strong named to the 31-player team. The squad, which honors Illini who played between 2000-10, was compiled by a combination of fan voting and input from Division of Intercollegiate Athletics staff.

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Martez Wilson Drafted by The New Orleans Saints

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It took a lot longer than many experts expected, but Illinois’ Martez Wilson is taking his talents south.

Not to South Beach, granted, but to one heckuva fun city.

Early in the third round the New Orleans Saints drafted Martez Wilson and ended what was becoming something of a precipitous slide for the former Fighting Illini linebacker.

“You know, the past couple of days were ok,” Wilson said via teleconference. “Today was more of an anticipation day. I was relaxed, but I anticipating, waiting to see where I would go.”

Maybe the reason for Martez’s slide had to do with one of the questions asked in the teleconference: He was sort of a tweener at LB, with some teams listing him as an inside linebacker, some on the outside.

New Orleans is looking at him on the outside.

“They told me that they want me to learn the SAM linebacker slot, and line me up over some tight ends,” Wilson said. “They want me to learn that spot, learn more about all the positions, and then see where things go from there.”

Listen in to the whole teleconference, without the fun echoes of the Leshoure teleconference, after the jump. [Read more…]

NFL Draft’s First Two Rounds Will Feature Some Illini

For the fourth year in a row, the first couple rounds of the NFL Draft will feature a couple names from your Illinois Fighting Illini. Tailback Rashard Mendendall went in the first round in ’08, cornerback Vontae Davis was the 25th overall pick in ’09, and last year, wide receiver Arrelious Benn was just a couple picks off from being a first round selection.

With all this next level talent in Champaign, you may wonder “how come they went 8-16 during 2008-09? Well, that’s why we saw two new coordinators come in the summer before 2010. Explains a lot.

This draft will see three prospects likely to go in the first two rounds. We won’t see as many Illini choosen in this draft as we did last year, but this trio of underclassmen RB Mikel Leshoure, DT Corey Liuget and LB Martez Wilson will go higher (or as Bulls analyst Stacey King said “GO HIGHER”) than last year.

But this year, the draft seems much more satisfying because the Illini actually won a bowl game; their first since 1999.

By Paul M. Banks

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What we Learned from Fighting Illini Football Spring Game

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A small select group of things are certain in life- death, taxes, and Fighting Illini football seasons ending up much different than what you expected in the preseason. Last year’s team wasn’t expected to really do much- Yet the finished 7-6 (despite a very difficult schedule) and with a quite decisive bowl victory.

Conversely, in ’08 and ’09, expectations were sky-high heading into September, yet both of those teams flopped (and that’s putting it nicely). So what about this year? Expectations are kind of mixed, “up in the air” you might say as this year’s squad competes to become the first team to reach back-to-back bowl games since 1992.

And that’s fitting, because the 20th anniversary of the 1988-92 teams that made five consecutive bowl games will both be celebrated during the weekend festivities. If Red Grange and Robert Zuppke presided over the “Golden Years,” of Illini college football, then surely the Jeff George/Jason Verduzco/John Mackovic teams were the “silver era” of the program’s history.

That said, let’s begin the journey this fall to finding out whether or not this team will match the ’92 squad’s accomplishment.

By Paul M. Banks

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Fighting Illini Spring Football Game Preview

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Now that Mikel Leshoure left the Illini early for the NFL Draft, (and who can blame him really? He will be one of the first three running backs taken next week) Illinois college football is now headlined by sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase. It’s his team. And if he continue to makes strides like he did from the season finale to the Texas Bowl, things will be fine.

The 15 extra practices between the Fresno State loss and the 38-14 domination over Baylor did wonders for Scheelhaase as he completed his first 13 passes, played his best game of the season, and easily could have been co-MVP with Leshoure in that game. Even though Leshoure’s game was really quite special.

Something to really keep an eye on Saturday is Scheelhaase continuing to develop chemistry with wide receivers Ryan Lankford and Darius Millines.

But you won’t get to see the heir apparent to Leshoure at the tailback position. Jason Ford will not go Saturday.

By Paul M. Banks

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Breaking: Illini LB Martez Wilson Entering NFL Draft

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And the first of the three Illinois Fighting Illini dominoes falls. Linebacker Martez Wilson, the player with the lowest draft stock of the three, is declaring for the NFL Draft. This is a big surprising to me, as he had a good, but not great season in 2010. And his junior season was much more productive than his other two years in school.

Still, you know the NFL scouts love measurables and potential as much if not more than on-the-field resume, so maybe Tez should try his luck. No word on Corey Liuget yet, but rumors are he’s leaving. We have also heard nothing definitive on the Mikel Leshoure front as of yet.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan:

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Illini Football Next Level Defenders: Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson

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Don’t be surprised if the Illini run the table the rest of the way. Even if they don’t, already at 5-3, (3-2 in Big Ten) they have greatly improved upon last year’s 3-9 mark and will likely make their way into a pretty decent bowl. This season is a pleasant surprise to say the least.

The MVP of 2010 is probably newly installed defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. The Illini rank 12th nationally in points allowed (16.8 ppg), 15th in total defense (301.4 ypg), 19th in pass defense (183.9) and 26th in rushing yards allowed (117.5 ypg), all while facing the toughest schedule in the nation.

At the end of last season, Illinois was 96th in scoring defense (30.2 ppg), 100th in pass defense (248.8), 91st in total defense (403.3 ypg) and 76th in rushing defense (154.4 ypg).

And Koenning and company have personnel too. Among the talent on the Illini roster is a trio of juniors with NFL level measurables and potential. Tailback Mike LeShoure, Middle Linebacker Martez Wilson and Defensive Tackle Corey Liuget will probably all be playing on Sundays.

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Ron Zook on The Rose Bowl, Being Relaxed and Martez Wilson at Media Day

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Perhaps the fate of University of Illinois football coach Ron Zook DOES lie in this year’s performance. He’s not feeling the pressure to win now, however, either way.

“No, I don’t, to be honest with you,” Zook said at Monday’s media day press conferences. “I think everyone that stands up here today has got pressure.  Obviously some of us have more than others.  I think the thing that you try to do is you do the best you can do.”

The problem with that statement is that over the last couple of seasons, Zook’s best hasn’t nearly been good enough. [Read more…]

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