6 days to Camp Rantoul

6 days to Camp Rantoul

Counting down the 50 most important Illini

No. 6: Mason Monheim, linebacker

Why he’s important: He kept the spring game from possibly lasting well until midnight. Or forcing Tim Beckman to make a difficult choice about how the game ended. Put a football on the field, and the sophomore is bound to make plays. Like his interception late in the fourth quarter off a pass from Reilly O’Toole with O’Toole’s Orange squad trailing 35-28 but driving. Or like he did for much of last fall. Monheim played above his years with an exceptional true freshman season. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound middle linebacker started his first game against Charleston Southern and never left the starting lineup. He led Illinois in tackles with 86, a total that topped all Big Ten freshmen. If he keeps those numbers up the rest of his Illinois career, it’s a good bet he’ll be the first player since J Leman to crack the school’s all-time top 10 list for tackles. Having games like he did against Minnesota last year (career-high 15 tackles) would certainly help speed up the process. The Illinois coaches have seen an improvement in a leadership role from Monheim, who enters the fall as the undisputed starter at middle linebacker.

Fast fact: Illinois had Monheim on its radar before Beckman arrived on campus. But having the former Toledo coach join the Illini helped make Monheim’s decision easier. The Orrville (Ohio) product picked Illinois over offers from Akron, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Toledo.  

Tomorrow: No. 5