CHAMPAIGN — He could be getting ready for the NFL draft in a couple of weeks with former teammate Whitney Mercilus.
Instead, defensive end Michael Buchanan was piling up sacks and winning points with the Illinois fans Saturday. The senior-to-be, who had a close relationship with former coach Ron Zook, said he is glad he is sticking around.
"I've been here four years," Buchanan said. "I feel it's my time to be a leader."
Buchanan was named the spring MVP on defense. He was holding the award during Saturday's postgame news conference.
"It means a lot," Buchanan said. "It's my first one since I've been here. It says a lot to be voted MVP of the defense. I feel like I've improved a lot."
Buchanan finished with 4.5 sacks Saturday.
"I lost count, but everybody kept making it a point to tell me," Buchanan said. "I wasn't really even thinking about it."
Buchanan considered a move to the NFL after a solid junior season. He credits Tim Beckman for helping him to decide to stay.
"He got us our (NFL) grades early," Buchanan said. "He was very honest. The things he said he wanted to do with this program, I really wanted to be a part of it."
Buchanan wants to be one of the top defensive ends in the country. That honor in 2011 went to Mercilus, the Hendricks Award winner.
Even without Mercilus, who tied the school sacks record, Buchanan said the line can be better in 2012.
"Our guys have been looking great," Buchanan said.
Buchanan plans to put on some weight during the summer.
"I want to be more explosive," Buchanan said.
Hawthorne works OT
So much for Terry Hawthorne being rusty at receiver.
The starting cornerback caught a 29-yard touchdown pass Saturday from Reilly O'Toole. It was the only ball that went his way on offense.
"He's one of the best athletes on the team," O'Toole said. "Any way we can get him the ball, it will be good. That was a jump ball. I knew Terry would make the play, and he did."
Hawthorne plans to work with the offense during the summer. He was a star receiver in high school but moved to defense as a freshman at Illinois.
"I'm just more comfortable on defense now," Hawthorne said. "I've just got to get back into the rhythm of playing receiver."
Beckman said he will manage Hawthorne's time between offense and defense, "same way we did with Ted Ginn and some of the other guys I've been around. They've got to have the football intelligence."
Scheelhaase still at work
The streak is over. Nathan Scheelhaase has finally lost a spring game. The Orange team starter had the lead until a late field goal by the Blue.
That dropped Scheelhaase to 2-1 in the spring, with one game left to go.
"It was disappointing," Scheelhaase said. "But this was fun. It's been the most fun I've had in a spring game."
Scheelhaase completed 11 of 26 passes for 65 yards. He scored the lone touchdown for the Orange on an 8-yard run.
With the spring session over, Scheelhaase turns his attention to the summer. He won't be goofing off at the pool or taking long vacations.
Neither will O'Toole, who hit 19 of 31 passes for 159 yards.
"We're still trying to get down the plays," O'Toole said. "There's stuff we still need to install."
O'Toole enjoyed his first spring game.
"It's nice to be in a game environment," O'Toole said. "There were points we left on the field. We can get better."
Brown tackles challenge
Jonathan Brown led the Blue with 10 tackles. Beckman described the junior with a simple word: tough.
"He's got a lot of capabilities," Beckman said. "He's just tapping what he can do."
Osei shows positive side
O'Toole calls him "Mahhls." Why? Because that's the way former quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm pronounced Miles Osei's first name.
Whatever the name, the junior is going to keep busy during the 2012 season. At least, if Saturday is any indication.
The backup quarterback was used at running back and receiver. It was a plan devised during winter workouts.
"At quarterback, you have to learn every position any way," Osei said. "I already have that mind-set going in."
Asked to be more than a quarterback, Osei happily obliged.
"That's just Miles Osei," Beckman said. "He is a definite team football player. It's huge for us."
Osei was in the backfield at times Saturday with Scheelhaase. The starting quarterback likes the setup.
"It's kind of like having two eyes back there," Scheelhaase said.
"I can help out the receivers if they don't know the formation," Osei said. "I can help out if I see a blitz."
Easy day for punter
Punter Justin DuVernois averaged 42.2 yards on four punts Saturday, with a long of 55 yards.
"I started off a little rough but definitely came through in the end," DuVernois said.
Part of the problem might have been the lack of a rush. DuVernois was able to get the punt off without the threat of it being blocked.
"It's very awkward," DuVernois said. "I got used to it."
A tip of the hat ...
After the game, Illinois handed out spring awards. Center Graham Pocic was named offensive MVP, Buchanan was defensive MVP, and long snapper Zak Pedersen was special teams MVP. Tailback Josh Ferguson was named the most improved on offense, and safety Earnest Thomas won the award for most improved on defense. The academic excellence award went to fullback Zach Becker, quarterback/running back/receiver Miles Osei won the Unsung Award and cornerback Justin Green and Pocic won the faculty awards.
Ohio product commits
The Illinois football team picked up its fourth recruit of the 2013 recruiting class when Christian DiLauro of Uniontown, Ohio, orally committed Friday.
DiLauro plays tight end and defensive end for Green High School, but he was recruited to Illinois as an offensive lineman. The junior is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, and the staff believes he has the frame to play offensive tackle.
"Talking to the coaches, it just felt right," said DiLauro, who visited Champaign this weekend.
DiLauro's commitment came one day after Peoria Richwoods junior running back Kendrick Foster orally committed to the Illini.
Illinois had 40 players on campus Saturday as part of a Junior Day.
Cody Westerlund contributed to this story