Counting down the 50 most important Illini
No. 5: Ryan Lankford, wide receiver
Why he’s important: He’s 294 yards away from hitting the 1,000-yard receving mark in his career. In other words, he’s the most experienced and most proven option Nathan Scheelhaase has to throw the ball to entering the 2013 season. A year ago, Lankford’s name was mentioned more for his rugby punting skills than his pass catching. A steady 2012 by Lankford — and punter Justin DuVernois — made it clear catching the ball rather than punting it is Lankford’s best way to stay on the field. He caught 37 passes for 469 yards and five touchdowns last year, which more than doubled the production he had in his first two seasons at Illinois. He started off the 2012 season right, hauling in a 64-yard touchdown pass from Scheelhaase on only the fourth play of the season at home against Western Michigan. The reception ended up becoming the longest offensive play of the year for Illinois. Lankford, whose father, Paul, played defensive back for the Miami Dolphins, doesn’t have the biggest size (6-0, 175) but makes up for that with his speed. He’s trying to become an all-around wide receiver known also for his precise route-running, but his extra burst off the line of scrimmage can’t hurt. Bill Cubit has had some of his previous wide receivers at Western Michigan have superb individual seasons. Is Lankford next? Stay tuned.
Fast fact: If the NFL doesn’t work out for the communications major set to graduate in December, Lankford has plans to possibly either enter sales or try to latch on at Illini Productions, the university’s video department for athletics.
Tomorrow: No. 4