28 days to Camp Rantoul

28 days to Camp Rantoul

Counting down the 50 most important Illini

No. 28: Taylor Zalewski, kicker

Why he's important: Close game. National television audience. Plenty riding on one field goal. Granted, Zalewski wasn't in this position much last season. Illinois hardly had any close games where the sophomore from Orland Park was counted on to produce in a pressure-packed situation. In fact, Tim Beckman split the place-kicking duties last year between Zalewski and Ryan Immekus. With Immekus' departure from Illinois this spring, however, the job is now Zalewski's to lose. He already has a firm grasp on kickoff duties, having sent more than half (23 of 43) of his kickoffs last fall into the end zone for touchbacks. He has the edge on Ryan Frain going into the season as far as field goals and extra points. He had some bright moments from 2012 (a 54-yard field goal against Purdue that is the third-longest in program history) as well as some forgettable moments (a missed 26-yard field goal against Penn State). He'll need to improve his consistency on his field goal attempts (converted 4-of-7 last year), but can't improve on his extra point efficiency. Zalewski made all 12 last year and finished second on the squad in scoring.

Fast fact: Zalewski, an all-state selection at Carl Sandburg High School, initially chose Northern Illinois before switching to Illinois as a preferred walk-on. He earned a scholarship this spring with the Illini.

Tomorrow: No. 27