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Illinois didn’t really need to announce the MVP at Saturday’s annual banquet. There wasn’t any question the award was going to Mikel Leshoure.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be considered an MVP for this team and to be put in the category with the rest of those guys,” Leshoure said.
The record-setting running back from Centennial took a break from NFL combine preparation to spend one last day with his teammates.
“It’s good to be back with my brothers,” Leshoure said.
“It’s a sad, sad moment. But it’s a happy moment also.”
The early entrant into the NFL draft has been training in McKinley, Texas. With a former Baylor star, no less.
A few weeks after Leshoure’s Texas Bowl MVP performance against Michael Johnson’s Bears, the Olympic gold medalist is helping Leshoure increase his speed.
“He gave me a hard time about running over those guys,” Leshoure said. “We mess with it all the time. I’m glad to be working with him.”
All three Illinois early entrants were at Saturday’s banquet. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget is projected to go in the first round and linebacker Martez Wilson in the second.
“I’m hearing some good stuff, but I’m not paying too much attention to it,” Liuget said. “I have to go back to work on Monday and keep training and doing the things that got me to where I’m at.”
Liuget, who got one of Leshoure’s two Illini MVP votes, is working out in Florida to prepare for the February combine.
Wilson, who is training in Los Angeles, said he isn’t paying attention to the draft lists.
“I want to stay focused and stay hungry,” Wilson said.
Staying warm. Three Illini are playing in Sunday’s Eastham Energy All-Star Game at Tempe, Ariz.
Linebacker Nate Bussey, receiver Eddie McGee and punter Anthony Santella will play for the Stars team.
The Stars roster includes Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, Northwestern linebacker Nate Williams and Iowa linebacker Jeremiha Hunter.
Sunday night's game kicks off at 6:30 and is being televised by Fox Sports College.
Staying warm II. Illinois guard Randall Hunt played in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Orlando. Hunt was one of 11 Big Ten players on the East team, which included Penn State running back Evan Royster, Indiana receiver Terrence Turner and Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle.
Hunt recovered a fumble by Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien in the end
zone, which gave the West a safety.
Longtime NFL coach Dan Reeves coached the East. Recent Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips was in charge of the West.
Senioritis. There aren’t any Illini playing in the Jan. 29 Senior Bowl, but the Big Ten will be well represented.
Iowa’s Christian Ballard, Adrian Clayborn and Ricky Stanzi, Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, Indiana’s James Brewer, Ohio State’s Ross Homan, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, Lance Kendricks and John Moffitt, Michigan State’s Greg Jones and Chris Rucker and Michigan’s Stephen Schilling are all scheduled to play.
The best of the postseason all-star games will be televised by the NFL Network, starting at 3 p.m.
Local connections. A pair of former Illini have taken coaching jobs at BCS schools. Ex-Illini quarterback Jeff Hecklinski followed Brady Hoke from San Diego State to Michigan, where he will coach receivers. Hecklinski also worked with Hoke at Ball State.
Ex-Illini receiver George McDonald joined Al Golden’s staff at Miami. McDonald, who served as the Cleveland Browns’ receivers coach in 2010, will have the same position with the Hurricanes. He also has worked at Minnesota, Western Michigan, Stanford and Northern Illinois.
The following awards were handed out at the Illinois football banquet, held Saturday night at Memorial Stadium:
MVP – Mikel Leshoure
Red Grange Award – Eddie McGee
Most Improved Player – Jarred Fayson
Rookie of the Year – Nathan Scheelhaase
Outstanding Offensive Back – Leshoure
Outstanding Offensive Lineman – Jeff Allen
Outstanding Defensive Lineman – Corey Liuget
Outstanding Linebacker – Martez Wilson
Outstanding Defensive Back – Tavon Wilson
Outstanding Special Teams – Anthony Santella, Nate Bussey
Outstanding Receiver – A.J. Jenkins
I Believe Key Contributors – Travon Bellamy, Aaron Gress, Chris James, Clay Nurse
Wright Commitment to Excellence – Anterio Jackson
Bruce Capel Award – Ryan Palmer
Monsignor Duncan Award – Former Illini Doug Dieken
Scholar-Athlete Award – Zach Becker
Service Above Self Award – Randall Hunt
Scout Team Players of the Year – Jake Kumerow (offense), Austin Teitsma (defense)
Team Captains – Allen, Liuget, McGee, Martez Wilson